Ever Hopeful!

It’s difficult to focus today. Recent losses touch close to home. Though words usually flow from my fingertips, they escape me when it comes time to offer condolences to those in mourning. I fret over what to say to still others whose loved ones prepare to take their leave. How can I encourage those whose families and friendships remain intact, but who are immersed in suffering the rest of us cannot imagine? How do I respond to yet another senseless act of violence which took the lives of innocent people, changed the lives of their loved ones and harmed still others? How do those who continue to rebuild after hurricanes and earthquakes process this unnecessary violence? How do those who endure in violent neighborhoods and war-torn countries find the heart to acknowledge such senseless suffering? The cloudy skies which reign over this November day reflect my mood with unwanted precision.

It was with my sadness intact that I turned to today’s scripture passages for this writing. I couldn’t help giving up my frown as I discovered once again that my current sentiments are nothing new to humanity. The passage from the Book of Wisdom (6:12-16) gives Wisdom life as a woman who is always present to those who seek her. She brings understanding where none seems possible and gives meaning when this life is most difficult to understand. At the moment, I’m impelled by my aching spirit to seek Wisdom’s help in full earnest. Paul’s first letter to the Thessalonians (4:13-18) addresses similar distress. His followers were upset because Paul had preached that Jesus would return soon to take up the righteous with him. Unfortunately, many of those good souls had since died and there was no evidence that eternal life had yet come their way. Paul consoled those who mourned by echoing Jesus’ promise of eternal life for each and every one of them. Though I needed no convincing that life in the hereafter will eventually come for us all, I couldn’t shake my frustration at being unable to find much hope in the moment at hand. It is today’s reading from Matthew’s gospel (Matthew 25:1-13) which addresses this.

This particular passage elicits memories of my childhood response to Jesus’ parable about the wise and foolish virgins. According to his story, ten young women waited dutifully for a bridegroom’s arrival at his wedding. Jesus considered five of the virgins (bridesmaids in the present vernacular) to be wise because they brought along both their lamps and extra oil in preparation for the wedding. They left nothing to chance as their wait for the groom might have been longer than expected. The extra oil would allow them to relight their lamps to guide his way. Jesus considered the five remaining virgins to be foolish because they brought only their oil-filled lamps and nothing more. They had no options if the groom was late. As a fifth grader, I found myself in total disagreement with Jesus’ assessment. I felt great sympathy for the allegedly foolish virgins. After all, the groom was about to be married and it was his responsibility to be on time for his wedding. The oil in the foolish virgins’ lamps should have been enough. In my young mind, I found the groom to be the fool and quite rude for being inexcusably late for this extremely important occasion!

Over the years, the wisdom of biblical scholars has enlightened my thinking. They tell us that the bridegroom is Jesus and the wedding banquet is the kingdom of God. The wise virgins are those who prepare for and welcome this encounter. The foolish virgins miss the opportunity by being unprepared for God’s promises. Our faith in God and God’s love places us in the shoes the wise virgins. We’re prepared to embrace all that lies ahead because we’re full of hope and joy over life in the hereafter. I normally consider myself among those wise ones, but this hasn’t been the case as of late. How can I have forgotten that extra hope-filled oil for my lamp?

Patient readers that you are, you’ve born witness to many difficult times which threatened to drain the oil of hope from my lamp. In the midst of these events, I walked with the foolish virgins with barely a drop of oil to keep the flame of hope burning within me. Fortunately for me, that oil was replenished every time by an unmistakable sign offered by one good soul or another to assure me that I wasn’t alone. God joined in those efforts by sharing in every bit of my pain and by participating in every bit of kindness sent my way. Though none of us can ever completely heal the pain of another, God joins in our efforts to replenish the oil of hope every time. Though we may not always understand God’s timing any better than I understood that bridegroom’s tardiness, we can definitely count on God’s loving presence. Yes, God is with us in everything always!

©2017 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

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He drove out the spirits by a word and cured all the sick.”
From Matthew 8:17

I sat mindlessly tapping my fingers on the table. I turned my attention to some troubling circumstances for which I see no end in sight. As I considered my options, I realized that there is little I can do to alleviate much of anything in this regard.

Just outside my window, a large robin plopped himself into our bird bath. He fluttered his wings for several seconds, splashing water every which way. Though I knew he couldn’t hear me, I remarked to my feathered friend, “It certainly doesn’t take much to make you happy!” Even before I finished this sentence, I realized that the same is true for all of us. Just as that water stands, available for my robin friend whenever he chooses to enjoy it, all that we need awaits us as well.

You know, being loved and cared for is the best any of us can hope for. Being loved and cared for makes everything we encounter doable. Though branches and boulders clutter the road before us, we manage to climb over them or to plod around them because we’re not alone. Though we may only occasionally choose to bathe in the waters of God’s loving care, God remains twenty-four/seven to offer them just the same.

Dear God, give us the wisdom of my robin friend that we may also bathe in the waters of your care.

©2017 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Rain Love

This, remember, is the message you heard from the beginning:
we should love one another.

1 John 3:11

A storm is brewing just beyond my window. I’m still reeling over the abundance of rain which flooded parts of our neighborhood a few weeks ago. Though our local television meteorologist offers encouragement with a promise that sunshine will return tomorrow, she fails to dispel the gray which lurks beyond my window today.

It occurs to me that my knowledge of human nature fails me as much as my understanding of weather patterns on occasion. I sometimes ignore this wisdom and “push buttons” that would best be left alone. Though I know well what will come next if I attempt to have the last word, I speak in spite of myself. When the thunder in my adversary threatens, I push when I should let go. I forget to let love take care.

Today, as the rain continues, I will continue in my own effort to dispel the gray clouds from my attitude and to let the sun shine in.

Dear God, though the weather is very much out of my control, my attitudes and actions are my own. Help me to use them both with love and good will.

©2017 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Choose Carefully

A time to rend, and a time to sew;
a time to be silent, and a time to speak.

Ecclesiastes 3:7

My mom always made time to sew regardless of how busy she was. She was a talented seamstress who sewed her own clothing from high school throughout most of her life. She clothed her children beautifully because she could transform the plainest fabric into the cutest outfits for us. She often fashioned our winter coats from adult coats which others had cast aside. Our mom fashioned some of our wedding dressings and the bridesmaid gowns which accompanied them.

There was a time when I always found time to speak. This prompted my dad to ask, “Who put the nickel in you?” This also prompted my husband to note more than once, “What others can say in a sentence, you say in two paragraphs.”

Late in her life, my mom found sewing to be more tedious than creative. Her eyesight had diminished just enough to make threading a needle impossible. The arthritis in her hands added to the difficulty. So it was that she set aside her sewing machine.

On occasion, I’ve found my words to be tedious as well. Though I haven’t set aside all of them, I am more selective regarding which words to use and when.

Dear God, being good stewards of our gifts requires that we make the best use of them. Once again, I ask for guidance.

©2017 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

When to Walk Away

“Whatever place does not welcome you or listen to you,
leave there and shake the dust off your feet…”

Mark 6:11

I admit it. I find it extremely difficult to shake the dust off my feet. Though I can write-off imprudent causes, I rarely do the same when it comes to my fellow humans. The few instances in which I have done so were the result of impending danger to someone I love.

This propensity to stay connected is partially genetic and partially learned. My parents opened their door to everyone. I recall my mom saying, “I leave the door open. If people choose not to come in, it’s their loss.” Jesus welcomed everyone who crossed his path as well. Since I subscribe to Jesus’ way of life, I try to welcome people as Jesus did.

Still, there are people who really aren’t good for us. They may not cause physical harm, but they take a psychological or spiritual toll on us. I find that if my gut is having a strong reaction to someone, I need to listen. This doesn’t necessarily mean that I need never to speak to this person again. However, it may mean that I should limit our contact as best I can.

I know this seems like an odd topic for a daily reflection. I included it because sometimes good people think that part of “being good” is allowing ourselves to be hurt unnecessarily. Our loving God could not disagree more.

Good and Loving God, as you walk with me, keep me safe and wise. Help me to recognize potential harm and guide me away from its source.

©2016 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

A Cub-full of Hope

“…and hope does not disappoint.”
From Romans 5:5

This commentary is a little late, I know… The day after the Chicago Cubs won the World Series, I was stricken with a bit of illness which kept me from celebrating. Though I cried and cheered and wept and jumped for joy as I watched that last tag in the tenth inning, there was no more revelry for me as I was confined to my pajamas and my recliner shortly thereafter. The good news is that the situation did allow me to nap and to watch television. Though I lost numerous hours to sleep, I did watch as the post-World Series merrymaking unfolded. The City of Chicago provided a worthy tribute to the remarkable team who has changed baseball history forever.

As I watched, tears appeared on my cheeks more often than I’d expected. Though I was as pleased as every Cub Fan with the end of that 108-year drought, I was more pleased with the character the team exhibited. Their humility after all they’d accomplished and their gratitude to their fans touched my heart. Still, it was that precious rain delay which allowed the time for a team meeting which touched me ever more deeply. Though his teammates seemed to feel that all was lost, Jason Heyward seized the opportunity to rally them. Jason reminded his Cub’s family that at that point a score of 6-6 was the same as 0-0. All they needed to do was to play like the best team in baseball, for, indeed, this is who they are. This player who struggled himself during post-season play filled his teammates with hope, hope that was not disappointed!

As I dozed off for another nap, it occurred to me that Jason Heyward’s speech has something to say to all of us. Regardless of the score, every new moment brings a new opportunity to score one for the good. Go Cubs! Go us!

Loving God, thank you for giving us the wisdom to hope. Thank you also for the cheerleaders like Jason Heyward who remind us that it is up to us to make hope a reality.

©2016 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved