C is for…

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 their 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.

However, in my neck of the woods, springtime took its sweet time while settling in. Without warning, we rushed from cool temperatures through a few days of springtime and on to summer. After all of that, our local meteorologists suggested that the roller-coaster ride wasn’t yet over. In spite of all of that, I can still assure you that the loveliness I find outdoors continues to be miracle enough to nourish my spirit.

As I move on in my effort 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. And, if Nature is so wonderfully fashioned, how much more so are you and I?

Dear God, I rejoice in your creative beauty every day! Thank you!

©2018 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

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Our Good Shepherd

In spite of the unseasonably cold weather and the snow which had fallen north of the Illinois border, my dear husband and I made a trek in that direction for a few days. Though our transition into Spring 2018 has been an extremely slow process and patches of green were few and far between, the scenery along the way is always a welcome diversion from our daily routines. We sometimes take what Mike calls “the scenic route” in spite of the additional twenty or thirty minutes it adds to our drive. Mike enjoys navigating the county and small-town roads with their leisurely pace and quaint structures all along the way. When we make it to the winding byways nearest the cabin, Mike is in heaven. As for me, I enjoy gazing out the window for the duration. Oddly, though we’ve alternated between our two routes for a quarter century, I’m always fascinated by the things I see along the way. Regardless of numerous previous sightings, every farm and hillside reveals something new to me as we meander by. This time, it was a large herd of sheep which surprised me. The snowfall hadn’t yet melted away and this woolly mass stood firm on what should have been grassy green ground by then.

As I considered the determined band before me, I was certain that I’d never seen this particular pasture before. I refrained from pointing it out to my dear husband because I knew he’d tell me that we’d passed that particular pasture hundreds of times. Rather, I tended to my own musing regarding the amazing gathering which had caught my eye. From my vantage point in the car, each sheep seemed to be a perfectly coiffed specimen. Their woolen coats boasted every shade of beige. Though usually a nondescript color, the beige hues of these sheep accentuated their fluffy appearances. Their color also made them clearly visible against the backdrop of white snow beneath them. I wondered why anyone would send sheep out in the midst of this year’s stubbornly lingering winter. I quickly reminded myself that Wisconsin farmers know exactly what they’re doing when it comes to their animals and their crops. So it was that I dismissed my worry and returned to admiring these wooly wonders. “You have to love sheep!” I said to myself. “They’re just so adorable!”

As we drove on, I recalled the sheep with whom I’ve come into close contact over the years. When we visited Mike’s cousins in Croatia, they housed a few sheep on their property. When we visited Brookfield Zoo with our granddaughters, the petting area which includes sheep was a mandatory stop. Last summer, we walked among the sheep at Lambs Farm with our grandson. As I considered these close encounters with my woolly friends, I couldn’t deny the realities of their habitats. In Croatia, at the zoo and at Lambs Farm, certain “aromas” and other “realities” accompanied these seemingly cute and fluffy mammals. We had to watch where we stepped whenever we were near them. When we were close enough to check, we found that these critters’ “fluff” is actually wiry and rough at best. As I reconsidered the sheep we’d past a few miles back, I admitted that if we’d stopped the car long enough to take a walk among them, I might not have found them to be so lovable after all. Still, in spite of this honest observation, I quickly told myself, “But someone I know would do anything for a sheep!” Your and my greatest blessing is the love of our Good Shepherd.

In today’s gospel (John 10:11-18), John shares Jesus’ description of a good shepherd. Jesus respected the shepherds of his day because he knew that a dedicated shepherd was a treasured commodity. Shepherds dutifully guarded their sheep day-in and day-out. As for the sheep, they knew their keepers’ voices and they followed them closely when being led in and out of their pastures. A good shepherd’s diligence allowed his sheep to spend their days in safety. In truth, the shepherd’s uninterrupted presence was essential to each sheep’s survival. In Jesus’ day, no caring shepherd ever allowed his sheep to wander beyond his watchful eyes. Like the shepherds he respected so, Jesus also promised never to allow one of God’s sheep to wander our of his sight or out of his heart.

It occurs to me that in spite of the snow and cold, the Wisconsin farmer who allowed his flock to graze that day wasn’t far from his herd. Perhaps he sensed that they were as stir-crazy as we because of the lingering winter weather and he allowed them the fresh air they craved. Happily for us, Jesus the Good Shepherd senses our every need as well. While we enjoy or endure the moment at hand, Jesus remains to shepherd us with his comforting and healing presence. Though Jesus doesn’t remove the obstacles which are part of our human landscape, Jesus remains. It seems to me that our best response is to welcome Jesus’ company with a word or a “baa” of gratitude.

©2018 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Pray With Certainty

Then Abraham said, “May the Lord not be angry,
but let me speak just once more…”

Genesis 18:32

The promise of springtime has also brought the promise of eternity with the end of some lengthy illnesses and other unexpected departures from this life. Recent wakes and funerals bring to mind a springtime loss of my own…

Thirty years ago, I stood at my step-father’s bedside with an aching heart. Emphysema had transformed the muscular carpenter I once knew into a shadow of his former self. I prayed and asked the God of Abraham to watch with me for a while. Like Abraham, as soon as I had God’s attention, I began negotiating.

First, I asked for relief for my dad’s difficult breathing. When I felt assured of that much, I went on. I requested strength for my mom and for the rest of us to remain present to him for as long as needed. I knew God was listening as always and so I continued. In the end, I dared to set limits on the “as long as needed” part. Indeed, I challenged God to hear and to respond to my prayer as Jesus promised God would do.

Just a week later, we walked with my step-dad through his passing. When all was said and done, I apologized to our patient God for my insolent and demanding prayer. I also thanked God for taking this second dad of mine home. In spite of my tears, I smiled and promised to pray with the conviction of Abraham many more times before God and I meet face to face.

Loving and Patient God, thank you for listening and for responding with more than I could ever hope for.

©2018 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Grateful For The Opportunity…

Thus have you prepared the land:
drenching its furrows, breaking up its clods,
Softening it with showers,
blessing its yield.

Psalm 65:11

I looked at our calendar to find that neither my husband nor I had anything scheduled for the day. This was quite a shock since we were both in busy-mode due to the rigors of preparing for Holy Week and Easter. I quickly called to him to ask, “Do you have anything going today?” He replied, “Miraculously, not a thing!” Having said that, he appeared in his old jeans and jacket. Before I could ask what he was up to, Mike shared that he was headed outdoors to assess what will need to be done “once the weather cooperates.” I laughed as he escaped via the back door.

After taking care of a thing or two indoors, I checked on Mike. In spite of the lingering cold, he had cleaned the bird bath and filled it with fresh water. He’d repaired a bird feeder and provided our feathered friends with a few seeds to get them through this dreary and frigid-for-April day. When I caught up with him, Mike was adjusting a window well cover which he’d dislodged with his snow shovel a month ago. He also listed the annual flowers he plans to purchase “once the weather cooperates.” When I asked why he was devoting this uncommon free-day to so much manual labor, he replied, “Are you kidding? I love doing this stuff!”

“Lucky you!” I thought as Mike continued his beloved self-imposed chores. “Lucky me!” I added as I came inside and went directly to my computer to write. “I love doing this stuff!” I said aloud before positioning my fingers on my keyboard…

Loving God, I’m grateful for the many enjoyable ways I find to serve. Thank you for this opportunity!

©2018 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Icy Conditions… Hopeful Conditions…

This, remember, is the message
you heard from the beginning:
Love one another.

1 John 3:11

I have a little headache and a bit of heartache. The realities of the New Year have revealed themselves in full force. I celebrated with many across this world when the clock struck 12:00 AM on New Year’s morning. I shared their relief over the close of Year 2017 and I whispered prayers of gratitude for the many blessings of that year. Still, I realize that there is much to be done if there is ever going to be peace on earth and peace in my little corner of this world.

Apparently, the heavens have a headache, too. A storm is brewing just beyond my window. This is an odd phenomenon. Only rarely do we hear thunder before a snow. If my minimal meteorological knowledge serves me, ice pellets, rather than snowflakes, will fall within the next few minutes. I wonder. Ice pellets sting, unlike snowflakes which gently settle to the earth. Still, in the end, both blanket the earth in white.

My headache fades a bit. There is wisdom to be found in the white stuff which has begun to fall. As those icy pellets tap my windowpane, their music lifts my spirit. I realize that Year 2018 brings its challenges, but it also brings promise. Sometimes, I will be called to respond gently like the falling snow. Sometimes, my actions may sting me or those who need me. In the end, I will do what I can to blanket as much of this world as possible with God’s peace.

Loving God, you never said that our work will be easy, but you will always be with us as we do it. Thank you!

©2017 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Holy Snow?

Let the sea and what fills it resound,
the world and those who dwell in it;
Let rivers clap their hands,
the mountains shout with them for joy
before the Lord.

Psalm 98:7-9

Though the snowy cold often inconveniences us a bit, I cannot deny that wintertime captivates me. While early December’s warmth provided excellent conditions for Christmas shopping, the cold which followed made the last few days before Christmas a challenge for most of us. Still, intermittent showers of frozen flakes uplifted my spirit. I find nothing more beautiful than an ice-clad tree and an undisturbed expanse of hardened snow. Add the crunch of that snow under my feet and a chilling wind around me and I’m in heaven! I willingly volunteer to be the driver in the worst winter weather. You see, even then, I find peace in the midst of nature’s havoc.

Why this affinity with this difficult season? I’m not certain. I can only guess. The “winters” of my lifetime have snowed a plethora of challenges and sorrows and disappointments upon me. Still, I emerged from each storm with renewed hope, increased stamina and a stronger resolve to carry on. Perhaps winter, when most living things lie dormant beneath the surface, symbolizes the potential to be found in the many unexpected places, circumstances and people in our lives. Perhaps knowing that spring will eventually come inspires my hope that, indeed, life is everywhere, in everything and in everyone!

Creator God, thank you for the beauty of this world that so inspires my hope. Help me to uncover that hope for those around me, whatever the season.

©2017 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved