A Plan for Lent

Rend your hearts, not your garments,
and return to the Lord,
for gracious and merciful is God.

From Joel 2:13

Ash Wednesday has a way of sneaking up on me every year. Though I’m part of the team who prepares for the liturgical seasons at our parish, this activity often distracts me from making my own plans for this special time of year. This year, I’m happy to share that my trip to Israel helped me to get an early start in this regard.

While in Israel, I attended to the places which marked the milestones in Jesus’ life: Mary’s home and a neighbor’s home in Nazareth, the local synagogue and the Jordan River where John baptized Jesus, the excavated streets of Magdala where Jesus met his friend Mary, Capernaum where Jesus taught his friends, the Sea of Galilee where they fished and Jerusalem where everything ended and everything began. Because this was my second visit to these places, I often tuned out our wonderful guide so I could tune into my heart. In the process, I spoke often to this Jesus who has made all of the difference in the world to me. If he had done nothing more than to offer his word and his example regarding God’s love for us, this would have been enough for me.

On this first day of Lent 2018 and every day until Easter, I hope to return to one event from Jesus’ life and to find the lesson there which is intended for me. Just as Jesus took the time to teach his disciples all they needed to know, he does the same for me. Hopefully, I will take each lesson to heart and behave accordingly.

Loving God, thank you for Jesus who revealed your love for us in everything he said and did.

©2018 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Advertisements

Our Parcels of Holy Land

Know that the Lord is God;
God made us, God’s we are;
God’s people, the flock God tends.

Psalm 100:3

I admit that a trip to the Holy Land was never on my bucket list. My dislike for small places determined long ago that a ten-hour flight was out of the question. Still, when a friend in the travel business mentioned an upcoming tour of Israel, I felt compelled to hear more. At a subsequent gathering where she explained the itinerary, I nudged my husband and said, “I think we should go.” The poor man retained his composure in spite of his complete shock that it was I who was initiating this venture. Mike quickly agreed before I had the chance to change my mind.

The other day, I shared that, some months ago, this tour director asked my husband if he would consider assisting her with this year’s venture to the Holy Land. Mike immediately agreed to do so. Much to my own surprise, I offered to go along as well. As soon as this possibility presented itself, images of the treasures we’d encountered last year filled me up. Nazareth, Cana, Magdala, Caesarea, the Sea of Galilee, Jerusalem and Gethsemane were only a flight away. How anxious I was to reunite with each of these holy places! At the same time, I was happy to return home the other day.

As the psalmist wrote, you and I are important members of God’s flock and every place we find ourselves has the potential to become holy land. It was an absolute joy to help shepherd my fellow pilgrims in Israel. If I take God’s shepherding to heart, I must continue the job here at home.

Dear God, be with us as we strive to make every place we walk a bit of holy land.

©2018 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

God’s Glad You’re You!

When I sat at my keyboard to begin this writing, I checked the calendar on my desk. I’d come fully prepared to develop an idea I’d had for a few days regarding today’s scripture readings. Much to my dismay, I’d forgotten that this is not only the Fifth Sunday of Easter, but also Mother’s Day. I didn’t have the time to return to Square 1. Still, the mom in me refused to ignore the obvious. As is my custom, I avoided the pain of starting over for as long as possible. I headed to the kitchen for some iced tea. It was such a beautiful day that I lingered at the kitchen window for a few minutes. My poor husband had just planted three tiny arbor vitae to replace a large tree we’d lost. As I considered how long it will take for these little guys to cover the open space at the corner of our yard, my mind wandered to the two little guys who used to play in that yard…

Our sons loved their sandbox. Every year, after Mike cleaned and refilled it, our sons rediscovered the joys of sand. Our less little son, Mike, instructed his more little brother, Tim, regarding the intricacies of road building. Mike carefully guided Tim’s hand as Tim pulled a small shovel through the sand just deep enough to fashion a road which would accommodate Matchbox cars. Tim caught on quickly because in no time he and his big brother were pushing trucks and cars down a sandy highway. Before I returned my thoughts to this writing, I prayed that my sons will always work this well together.

I couldn’t walk away from the kitchen window because the garden hose Mike had used to water his new little trees lay across the sidewalk. Suddenly, our fifteen-year-old Mike stood watering flowers for his dad. Intrigued by his brother’s discipline and determined to distract him, seven-year-old Tim ran his hand through the stream of water and splashed his older brother as best he could. It didn’t occur to Tim that his brother controlled a good deal more water than he. Within seconds, Tim was soaked from head to toe and he and Mike laughed uncontrollably. Before getting to this writing, I prayed that my sons will always be able to laugh together.

I’d almost finished my tea when I allowed myself another peek out the window. Though I thought the sun-drenched greenery across the back of the yard would offer some inspiration, that lush hedge only conjured additional images of our sons. This time, it was older brother Mike’s wedding day. They’d just finished lunch with the groomsmen. Mike and younger brother Tim were comparing cuff-links and vests. My son-the-groom noted that his younger brother looked “cool.” My son-the-best-man noted that his older brother’s gray vest and tie were good choices for the day. Because they weren’t here for me to hug, I offered another prayer on their behalf. I prayed that my sons will always be there for one another through good times and tough times.

As I made my way back to the study to begin this writing, I recalled our family gathering a few weeks ago. In what seemed to be a nanosecond, another wedding and four births added to Mike’s and Tim’s company in the backyard. As I sat at my keyboard for the second time in an hour, it occurred to me that my original idea was quite appropriate for both this Fifth Sunday of Easter and Mother’s Day.

Today’s scriptures are very clear about the importance of each of our efforts in this life. All three scripture passages (Acts 6:1-7, 1 Peter 2:4-9 and John 14:1-12) point to the things we can accomplish when we embrace the moment at hand. These invitations to action can be as subtle as a chance encounter at the grocery store or as obvious as a screaming baby who’s just emerged in the delivery room. In either case, our response has the potential to make all of the difference in the world to someone. The frightening and beautiful part of all of this is that, in God’s loving opinion, this work has been placed in most capable hands.

This Mother’s Day, I admit that embracing my role as Mom and Grandma came with far more perks than most jobs offer. At the same time, the investment required more than I thought I had to give. This Fifth Sunday of Easter, I admit that embracing my role as a member of our human family also offers far more perks than I ever expected. God has gifted each one of us with a unique presence which somehow enriches this world and all whom we meet along the way. God’s only expectation is that we try. If this humble mom can find such joy in her sons and daughters-in-law, her grandchildren and Grandpa Mike who shares all of this with me, imagine the joy God finds in you and me! Happy Mother’s Day and Happy God’s Glad You’re You Day!

©2017 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

The Journey Begins

Know that the Lord is God;
he made us, his we are;
his people, the flock he tends.

Psalm 100:3

I admit that a trip to the Holy Land was never on my bucket list. My dislike of small places determined long ago that a ten-hour flight was out of the question. Still, when a friend in the travel business mentioned an upcoming trip to Israel, I felt compelled to hear more. At a subsequent gathering where she explained the itinerary, I nudged my husband and said, “I think we should go.” The poor man retained his composure in spite of his complete shock that it was I who was initiating this venture. Mike quickly agreed before I had the chance to change my mind.

As our friend listed the places we’d visit, a lifetime of images filled me up. Suddenly, the events which occurred in Nazareth, Cana, Magdala, Caesarea and Jerusalem and on the Sea of Galilee so long ago filled a void in my own family history. That long flight seemed a small price to pay for the treasure of memories I’d find in the end. Over the coming days, you’ll discover that I was not disappointed.

I invite you to journey through Lent 2017 with me. In the process, I hope you’ll discover as I did the significance of each of our individual stories. You and I are important members of God’s flock and every place we find ourselves has the potential to become holy land. It’s up to you and me to make it so.

Dear God, none of our stories are complete without you. Be with us this Lent and always as we strive to make every place we walk a bit of holy land.

©2017 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Always With Us

Do you not know that you are the temple of God,
and that the Spirit of God dwells within you?

1 Corinthians 3:16

A young friend is moving on from a long and painful relationship. The love lost over the years has certainly taken its toll on all concerned. At first, the hurt ran so deeply that I feared this person would not recover. It is difficult not to question ones worth when matters of the heart go awry. What could I have done differently? Why didn’t I see this coming? Is this all my fault after all?

The good news is that good family and friends with a willingness to listen have accompanied this young person along the way. Fortunately, good sense led my friend to a competent and constructive counselor as well. Gradually, the burden of this relationship’s failure has eased and the guilt has given way to a much healthier appreciation of self. This young person feels lovable once again.

Generous God, fill our hearts with your love and never let us doubt our worth in your eyes. Give us the generosity of spirit to share that love with those you have given us to love, especially those who need it most.

©2013 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved