Make The Most of Now

“I have written this to make you realize
that you possess eternal life…”

1 John 5:13

I’m considering my commitment to hold onto my own Christmas spirit and to bring peace to this world of ours. I’m also wondering what I might add to my agenda to accomplish this. Though the first week of the new year usually provides a bit of breathing room before my routines fully return to normal, this hasn’t been the case this year. In spite of my stay-at-home efforts, I feel as busy as ever. Though I don’t know how I can add another item to my schedule, my good intentions gnawed at me…

After further reflection, I realize that I must practice what I preach and write! How often have I used this space to insist that we do our best by simply making the most of the moment at hand? How often have I written that God has placed each one of us precisely where we’re meant to be, even when we find ourselves in the midst of a pandemic? With that, I see that there’s nothing to add to my agenda. What I need to do it to polish up and refine my delivery. Perhaps that “delivery” includes finally finishing my book! When I acknowledge that God has assigned me a specific mission every moment of every day, everything becomes worth my best effort!

About that book… While I continue to pour over the scriptures and my own life experiences to fill this space, I will also pour over those pages which may just add a bit more peace to this world.

Loving God, please continue to nudge us along as we do our best for you.

©2021 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

You Can Count On God!

Though there is nothing typical about my life these days, I have held on to my morning routine. After whispering a prayer of thanks for the new day, I count. Because my lower back is full of arthritis, I complete four exercises before I get out of bed. I count forty reps for each one. When I get up, I lie on the floor to complete four additional exercises which require a firm surface. Once again, I count forty reps for each one. Years ago, my physical therapist assured me that the results would be worth the effort. She was absolutely correct because my back rarely bothers me. Finally, I stand for one shoulder exercise which keeps that temperamental joint moving appropriately since surgery some years ago. And, yes, I count to forty for that as well.

In spite of the benefits of these exercises, I grow weary of the counting. I tried singing my way through each movement. Unfortunately, this left me with no idea of the number of reps I’d actually completed. I tried timing my efforts only to discover that I do them at a different pace each time. I even tried praying my way through them only to find that I couldn’t give appropriate attention to either activity. As I write, I imagine that the serious workout buffs and trainers among you will respond to all of this with, “Mary, just count and be done with it!” I smile as I admit that you’re right. Still, I find a morsel of vindication in Peter’s frustration with counting and in God’s lack of interest in the same…

In last Sunday’s gospel (Matthew 18:21-35), Peter asked Jesus if it was enough to forgive his brother seven times. Poor Peter certainly didn’t expect Jesus to respond that he must forgive his brother not only seven times, but seventy-seven times. Jesus’ point was that the number of times we must forgive one another’s transgressions cannot be counted. We must forgive whenever it’s necessary. As I reconsider my morning exercises, I admit to being grateful that my forty reps of each one are enough. Poor Peter wasn’t as fortunate!

In today’s gospel (Matthew 20:1-16), Matthew tells us that Jesus presented another counting scenario in a parable. On this occasion, Jesus told the disciples that the kingdom of heaven operates like the vineyard of a certain landowner. That landowner went out early one morning to seek laborers. When he found a group who agreed to the standard daily wage, he sent them off to work. An hour later, he hired more workers to whom he promised a fair wage. The man hired additional workers at noon, at three o’clock and then at five o’clock. When the workday ended at six o’clock, the landowner told his foreman to pay all of the laborers beginning with those hired last. The foreman paid each man the standard day’s wage. When they realized what was happening, the laborers at the end of the line who were hired first began to count up their profits. If those who worked only one hour were given a full day’s wage, they could only imagine what they’d receive for the ten hours they’d worked. Ten times the daily wage was quite a sum! Much to their dismay, the foreman ignored their calculations and paid these laborers the standard day’s wage as well. When the men grumbled, the landowner reminded them that they’d been given exactly what they’d agreed to. The landowner then scolded them for resenting his generosity toward the other men. Those who worked only six or three or one hour had families to feed and debts to pay as well. The landowner had simply given them all what they needed to survive.

I’m truly relieved by that landowner’s choice to ignore the numbers when it came to providing for his workers. I’m even more relieved by Jesus’ insistence that this is precisely the way God operates when it comes to you and me. Though I’m compelled by my potentially aching body to count those reps when I exercise each morning, God isn’t compelled to count a thing. As sorely miserable as our efforts may be, God doesn’t keep score regarding them. God’s main interest is the moment at hand and our use of that precious gift. Every time we do the right thing, we accomplish good. In the process, we improve God’s vineyard as we and those around us blossom in unexpectedly beautiful ways.

Today, God continues to be the landowner who seeks laborers to tend to the fields of this life. God is pleased with those of us who begin our labor at daybreak and give our all for the duration. At the same time, God continues the search for more laborers. Every time another accepts God’s invitation to do the best he or she can, God is pleased. God’s entire vineyard benefits from these seemingly delayed efforts. The lesson here is that God isn’t counting the hours we work. Rather, God celebrates the quality of our labor whenever it is the best we have to offer at the time. Now that’s something we can all count on!

©2020 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

A Blessed Labor Day!

God blessed the seventh day and made it holy
because on it God rested from the work God had done….

From Genesis 2:3

I’ve always enjoyed Labor Day. When I was a child, we observed this holiday with a picnic which included our extended family. Back then, the new school year opened the following day. This last day of freedom gave us kids good reason to celebrate. Later, when I discovered the meaning of labor for myself at my first job, leisure time became a precious commodity.

It was no accident that the author of Genesis allowed God a day of rest after six days of labor creating this world of ours. When Jesus came to remind us of God’s presence in a tangible way, he spent the greatest portion of his life working and resting just as we do. Only after living thirty years as a typical citizen of his day did Jesus set out to preach and teach. Even then, Jesus often stole away to rest in God’s company.

Labor Day 2020 is certainly different from those of the past. This year, we’re being quite creative in our socially distanced revelry in order to keep one another safe. We’re also celebrating essential workers who’ve risked so much for us in a very special way. In spite of the holiday, many of them are reporting to work as usual today. Let’s seize the opportunity to rest and to celebrate these workers and the special work to which you and I have been called. It seems to me that all of our best work is simply being there for one another. In the end, all of our work is precious in God’s eyes and today’s rest is well deserved!

Faithful God, thank you for the opportunity to labor and to rest in your loving care.

©2020 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Stop to Watch the Birds!

“You always have the poor with you,
but you do not always have me.”

John 12:8

It’s July 22 and the good news is that I’ve been on a roll writing. The bad news is that I haven’t been on a roll with anything else. It was just the other day that I committed to an actual writing schedule which allows time for writing and enjoying life. As I pondered this thought, I ran to the kitchen for a glass of water. While I stood at the sink, a flurry of activity drew my eyes to the window and the bird-feeder in our backyard. My husband’s persistent feedings and his bird house have attracted countless finches to the premises. I considered taking a break to watch these tiny wonders, but I had writing to do…

As I turned to run back upstairs, movement on the patio caught my eye. A lovely white dove sat in the large flowerpot just outside our patio door. Though such visitors usually fly off when I draw near, she remained. Oddly enough, she seemed oblivious to those flitting finches and content to stare at me. A ray of sunlight caused her feathers to take on a heavenly aura. As I wondered what she was up to, it occurred to me that she might wonder the same about me. When our eyes met, I realized that I hadn’t relaxed at all today and I was about to miss an opportunity when I passed on finch-watching.

Did that lovely dove intend to remind me to slow down? Did she know that my writing could wait because those wildly happy finches deserved a few minutes of my attention? Did she know that I needed her attention today?

Loving God, once again, I thank you for the work ethic with which I’m blessed and for your well-timed reminders to set aside my work and to enjoy life.

©2020 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Rest and Rejoice

Sing joyfully to the Lord;
break into song and sing praise.

Psalm 98:4

A few weeks ago, my husband and I drove up north to our favorite getaway, a little log cabin in the woods. In spite of the fact that we would stay-in-place just as we have here at home, we gave in to this much-needed opportunity to enjoy a change of scenery. Mike doesn’t enjoy driving. However, he is always thrilled to be at the wheel when we’re headed north. Though I always volunteer to share the driving, he rarely takes me up on my offer. This time around, I was grateful. I happily lay back and enjoyed the view beyond the car windows. Nature didn’t disappoint as summer’s splendor generously revealed itself. As much as I love walking outdoors at home, I love the ever-changing view as we drove along even more. As it happened, we made excellent time and were surprisingly refreshed when we arrived.

Though we intended to relax, as soon as we settled in, we found small projects to tend to. The first was Mike’s fourth stay-in-place haircut. Though I haven’t cut anyone’s hair since our sons were babies, Mike observed that I’ve done a respectable job for him so far! Afterward, we replaced bulbs in our outdoor lights and wiped down the screened porch. Before we knew it, it was dinner time. Fortunately, we had food as we’d brought along enough for our stay.

When Mike and I finally sat at the table, we laughed at how little we had relaxed that day. Still, we felt much better than we had when we decided we needed this get-away. Mike wisely observed, “Maybe we don’t mind working at the cabin because we don’t have to do it. We do it because we want to.” How right he was…

Gracious God, thank you for this opportunity to revive our spirits. Now we’re ready to get back to the work at hand in full earnest.

©2020 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Change The World, One Act at a Time

“Go home to your family and tell them
how much God has done for you.”

From Mark 5:19

While growing up, I had visions of grandeur regarding what I would do with my life. I wanted to solve the problems of the world. I wanted to end wars. I wanted to fight against prejudice and injustice. I wanted to end poverty. I wanted to work with special needs children. I wanted to teach. I wanted to become a nun. I wanted to become a nurse…

When things began to fall into place, the path before me became a little straighter. I learned to value the seemingly mundane vocations that in reality make all of the difference in the world. I learned to value the seemingly small acts which touch others in profound ways. A good person who deals fairly and kindly with those around her brings peace to our world. Generous couples who allow their love to spill over onto to those around them bring love to the world. Parents who nurture their children with their time and attention bring hope to this world. Caring for those we have been given to love is the most important work we can do. Whether that caring involves small gestures and great sacrifice, it truly changes the world.

Dear God, sometimes I wonder if I’m doing my loved ones or this world any good. Thank You for the precious moments with them which dispel my doubt.

©2020 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved