Back To Normal Again…

In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.
Genesis 1:1

In spite of the cold, I bundled up to take a stroll through the neighborhood. My husband and I returned from a trip to the Holy Land a few days earlier and I hoped this trek through winter would help me to shake the jet-lag which held me captive. Happily, as soon as I reached the sidewalk in front of our house, I felt better.

Snow piles on either side of the walk reached well above my ankles. Occasional blocked sidewalks caused me to detour into the street where snowplows had left clear paths. It was there that I looked up to thank God. “Yes, I’m home,” I said aloud, “and I feel like I’m home! Thank you!” With that, I discovered a patch of gray-stained snow beneath my feet. “Hmmm. Though you’ve lost your luster, you’re still snow,” I whispered reassuringly.

I’d certainly lost my luster during the long flights home. I hoped that those nearby could see past my tired exterior to the real me. I smiled as I recalled reassuring voices from my past who’d urged me on when I’d lost my sparkle here and there. Their encouragement had made all of the difference. As I walked on, I found similarly afflicted bits of nature: A mighty birch bent low under heavy snow; an invisible pond hidden under a blanket of white; a row of arbor vitae reduced to a mass of tangled branches pointing everywhere but up. “Don’t worry,” I promised. “You’ll all be back to normal before spring.”

You know, when God created this earth, God also created an amazing source of hope for humankind. In the greatness and foibles of nature, God revealed the greatness and foibles which beset us all. When we take the time to learn from the gifts around us, we find encouragement, mercy and God’s awesome unconditional love. We also find the promise of another chance to regain our luster and to become our best selves once again.

Thank you, Creative God, for the gifts of Creation and for the lessons in life which we find among them.

©2020 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

A Servant and Caretaker King

Recently, I’ve found that my outdoor excursions aren’t as enjoyable as they were earlier in November. Cold temperatures challenge my ability to dress appropriately. I struggle to layer myself lightly enough to run errands, but warmly enough for those treks from the car to my destination. In the midst of all of this activity, I’ve had to accept the reality that autumn winds have removed most of the colorful leaves which once brightened my way. When I walk between errands or for exercise, I no longer enjoy the array of fall colors which never failed to take my breath away. I also no longer crunch and crackle as I amble along. The leaves I once walked on have been blown or raked into piles. In the midst of errands the other day, I realized that there is a story here.

When I finally returned home that day, I ignored my desk-full of work. Rather, I took what would likely be one of my last outdoor walks this year. Not long after heading out, I noticed a few stubborn leaves clinging with all of their might to otherwise barren branches. As I walked on, I found more determined leaves holding tightly to the trees they called home. In spite of the winds that battered and shook them, they held on. Each one seemed unwilling to give in to the inevitable. I imagined those leaves staring down those mighty gusts. Did they whisper prayers of thanks for every additional second that they were able to hold on? Those seasoned leaves were living their lives to the full as best they could and they weren’t about to let go before they absolutely had to do so.

A few days later, I bundled up, grabbed a rake and went out to the yard. As I tackled the lawn-full of leaves, I found that most of the determined leaves I’d applauded the other day had joined those swept away by the wind and humankind. Only a few remained stuck at the bases of bushes and fences. As I perused the scene, I silently congratulated them all for a job well done. I also acknowledged that their work isn’t complete after all. They’ll rustle and settle and rustle again until the first heavy snow forces them into a final resting place. They’ll lose their leaf-like appearance to decay and they’ll enrich the soil. That soil will nourish the trees which will produce another season’s leaves. Each one will go on to repeat their brave counterparts’ stubborn ritual. Oddly enough, there is story here which renews my understanding of today’s celebration.

This is the last Sunday of the Liturgical Year and the Feast of Our Lord Jesus Christ, King of the Universe. I admit to a smile at this title. Jesus’ affinity for the lowly and the outcasts among us suggests that he prefers the role of servant and caretaker. We’ve spent the year listening to Jesus as he taught us God’s ways. Jesus preached love and forgiveness, joy in the face of poverty and peace in the face of suffering. Jesus worked hard to convince us that God loves us as we are with all of our human frailties intact. While Jesus provided us a lifetime of good example, he also assured us that God expects only what we are able to do, nothing more and nothing less. Jesus walked with the seemingly unworthy and he chastised the presumptuous ones who tried to use his acquaintance to increase their own power or stature. Jesus consistently made time for the poor in spirit and the materially poor. Jesus responded mercifully to the worst of us as he tenderly loved us all. In the end, Jesus hung on a tree with all of his might, stubborn and determined not to let go until his work was finished. I cannot help imagining Jesus pondering the brave leaves who hold onto their trees as he once did. Is Jesus smiling because, just as their work to enrich the soil continues season after season, his work continues in and throughout the lifetime of each one of us?

It seems to me that autumn’s leaves offer an additional lesson regarding this King of the Universe. Our king doesn’t count himself among the powerful and mighty of this world though he is powerful and mighty in his love for us. Today’s gospel (Luke 23:35-43) tells us that Pilate put Jesus’ title as king in writing when he penned the inscription which hung on Jesus’ cross. However, it is Jesus whose selfless life illustrated all that this kingship entails. Like those leaves which beautify every spring, summer and fall and then die to give life to those who come after them, Jesus lived and then died and now lives again to give life to you and me.

Indeed, we have a good deal to celebrate. Today, our relationships with Jesus take on new life. We go out into the autumn air with an invitation to share that renewed life. If trees-full of leaves can so generously grace us throughout the year, how much more can we grace one another’s existence? If Jesus could cling so lovingly to that cross and to the lifetime which led him to it, can we also bring our love to the moments at hand? Can we grace those around us with the best we have to offer just as autumn’s leaves grace us? Just as Jesus graces us? If we try, I have no doubt that those around us will catch glimpses of Jesus all along the way!

©2019 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

So Much To Be Grateful For…

Let all your works give you thanks, O Lord,
and let your faithful ones bless you.

Psalm 145:10

This morning, I went out to walk around our backyard. There isn’t much to see these days except for bare trees, empty flowers beds and a few small patches of snow. It was when I walked to the front of the house that our Thanksgiving display caught my eye. Peanuts characters Lucy, Snoopy and Charlie Brown happily enjoy pumpkin pie in our front yard. Since our grandchildren enjoyed our Halloween Peanuts display, we’ve added the Thanksgiving edition of my favorite cartoon characters. Though these three are the work of Charles Schultz’s imagination, they elicited very real feelings of gratitude from me. When I considered their elation over that pie, I couldn’t help feeling the same over so much more…

Suddenly, the blue of the sky and those leafless trees which I’ve seen a hundred times filled me with awe. Chirping birds who should be well on their way south elicited a smile as they enjoyed lunch at our bird-feeders. Even the chubby squirrels who made a meal of the birds’ leftovers gave me reason to feel grateful.

It seems I’ve received a lesson in Creation’s wisdom without leaving my own yard. The blue sky that beckoned my eyes toward heaven and the trees who continuously raise their arms upward encourage me to do the same. Their very existence points to God’s glory. Those birds and squirrels who so happily enjoy their daily bread remind me that I’m blessed to do the same. Perhaps I’m on this earth to point others in heaven’s direction as well.

It seems to me that being a part of God’s creation is a privilege and honor and something for which to be especially thankful.

Generous God, I am grateful to be a part of your handiwork. Help me to express my gratitude by taking on your generous ways.

©2019 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Relax With God

“Martha, Martha, you are worried and upset about many things, but only one thing is needed. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.”
Luke 10:41-42

It’s taken me a lifetime to appreciate our need to slow down and to relax a bit. I truly enjoy the natural beauty around me. Still, I sometimes use more energy listing the reasons that I cannot head outdoors than I would’ve spent by actually walking. In the end, I accomplish far less than I might have if I’d been energized by a trek outdoors.

As I contemplate autumn’s arrival, I realize that outdoor opportunities will soon be limited by increasingly cold temperatures. Though I truly enjoy winter’s beauty, I’ll enjoy it firsthand for only a few minutes at a time. I looked away from my keyboard for a moment to respond to the tree outside of my window. It seemed to be waving to me. As I watched, it occurred to me that I must listen to Jesus who told Martha that she worried too much. I must also imitate Mary who sat peacefully at Jesus’ feet. She drew in his every word and all of the affection that came with them.

Today, I’ll ask Mary to move over a bit so I can take my place at Jesus’s feet as well. It’s there that I’ll learn to stop worrying about the cold which may or may not come and I’ll enjoy the warmth of the moment at hand. I’m going to sign off now to go for a walk. I want to wave to that tree outside my window in person.

Generous God, as I set aside my worries, help me to assist others in doing the same. Open our hearts to your infinite love and peace.

©2019 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Gifted Freely!

Bless the Lord, O my soul;
all my being, bless God’s holy name.
Bless the Lord, O my soul;
and forget not all God’s gifts.

Psalm 103:1-2

I’d been walking indoors quite a bit, so I seized the opportunity to hike around a nearby lake with my husband. Though the scenery wasn’t really very different from that of our local park, I enjoyed the change. The breeze which urged us along caused leaves to rustle and tiny waves to form on the lake. Though we could easily see from one side of this body of water to the other, it looked mighty and strong in its own right.

As we walked, I found myself distracted from our conversation by unfamiliar flowers, an oddly shaped tree and a chubby chipmunk who dared to scamper across our path. A very large and unleashed dog gave me reason to pause, though my husband ambled toward it without fear. The dog’s master likely noted my alarm as she quickly attached a leash to her furry companion. I admit that I thanked her for this consideration after I complimented her admittedly cute canine. When we began our second trek around the lake, I hoped to see that dog again so I could exhibit my newfound bravery in its presence. I also hoped to notice even more of the treasures hidden in this beautiful place.

Though that walk around the lake was free of cost to me, it was jam-packed with treasure. It seems to me that this is true of all of God’s gifts.

Creator God, I enjoyed that walk. Thank you for giving us the capacity to appreciate this beautiful world. Thank you for our capacity to appreciate you. Thank you for everything!

©2019 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

C… Creation!

Let the heavens be glad and the earth rejoice;
let the sea and what fills it resound;
let the plains be joyful and all that is in them!
Then shall all the trees of the forest exult before God!

Psalm 96:11-12

C is for Creation. When life is going well, I’m drawn outdoors to share my good fortune with Nature. When I’m troubled in great ways or small, Nature’s order and beauty beckon me with a promise of peace and better things to come. I cannot take in the tiniest of this earth’s treasures without also taking in the treasure of God’s loving care for me.

In my neck of the woods, we endured a cold and snowy winter. December required us to engage our snow-blower. In January, Nature transformed our neighborhood into a winter wonderland. The white blanket remained for weeks on end. When it seemed to hint at melting a bit in February, March roared in to restore its white grandeur. The snow which fell in April came and went through Easter. Still, Winter’s intrusion into Spring 2019 didn’t deter my appreciation of Nature’s absolute beauty. Whether blanketed in icy white or lush green, the loveliness I find outdoors is always miracle enough to nourish my spirit.

As I continue to alphabetize God’s amazing gifts, I rely heavily upon the gift of Creation. It is there that I find God’s wonder in its purest form. If Nature is so wonderfully fashioned, how much more so are you and I? As I ponder all of this further, it occurs to me that we have very good reason to take good care of ourselves, those God has given us to love and this amazing world of ours…

Dear God, help us all to care for the precious gifts of Creation, especially one another.

©2019 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved