Nestle In God’s Embrace

Every morning, I set the tone for the day by reading from a daily devotional. My favorite features dozens of writers. Each contributes six or seven of the reflections which appear throughout the book. Regardless of the author of the day, I’m consistently touched by the morsels of wisdom nestled among his or her words. Whether or not the story which unfolds appeals to me, the author’s intent always manages to touch my heart. Some mornings, I add favorite passages from Henri Nouwen and Max Lucado. I’m most grateful for their generosity in sharing their deeply personal relationships with God with the rest of us. As I struggle to do the same through my own book, my admiration for these writers continues to grow exponentially.

After I opened my devotional this morning, I returned to this writing. Because I completed my research yesterday, I planned to write all of this fairly quickly. That was until the pile of notes resting next to me spilled over onto my keyboard. I had to re-stack them before I could type another word. In the process, I found a small sticky note which read, “Nestle, Don’t Wrestle”. I laughed as I recalled this old phrase. Long ago, I’d read about someone who’d hoped to write a book about our struggles throughout this life and our propensity to ignore the precise solution to all of our problems. This woman intended to title the book, Nestle, Don’t Wrestle. She’d hoped that her text would convince all of the world that we must stop wrestling with God and insisting that God solve our problems our way. I laughed again as I admitted to myself that I’m guilty of just that.

Of course, I couldn’t let go of this concept of nestling in God’s care rather than wrestling alone with life’s challenges. I wondered if the person I’d read about had actually written her book. After searching online for some time, I realized that this potential author had likely not realized her dream. I found no books of that title anywhere. What I did find was Corrie ten Boom’s DON’T WRESTLE, JUST NESTLE* which was published long before the person I’d read about had voiced her dream. Still, the titles were so similar that I had to learn more. I discovered that Corrie ten Boom’s book is still available and that it can also be downloaded for free. I also found several short reviews which indicated that this book had indeed offered the same advice which that potential author had hoped to share years later. That advice? To take God at God’s word and to place our troubles into God’s capable hands. This frees us to embrace the moments at hand with hope. Corrie ten Boom and her family lived in The Netherlands. When the German Army invaded her country, she turned her home into a hideout where she protected many Jewish people. As a result, she and her family were arrested and imprisoned in a concentration camp where her sister died. In spite of this heart-wrenching experience, Corrie’s absolute hope in God’s care remained. As I read on, I discovered that Corrie’s relationship with God was steadfast throughout this suffering and her lifelong efforts to speak out about God’s love and forgiveness and our need to forgive.

So many scripture passages echo God’s invitation to us all to nestle and not to wrestle our way through this life alone! Isaiah (Isaiah 66:10-14c) tells us. “…you shall be carried in her arms, …as a mother comforts her child, so I will comfort you…” God promises to carry each one of us through everything. We mustn’t waste our energy wrestling with our problems alone. We mustn’t wrestle with God to convince God to do things our way. Rather, we must ease into God’s arms with all of our problems in tow. When we hand the things which trouble us over to God, we free ourselves to enjoy the peace that only God’s embrace can offer. In his letter to the Galatians (6:14-18), Paul expounds upon the peace he found when he opened himself up to Jesus. Paul had persecuted and killed hundreds of Jesus’ followers because they’d moved beyond The Law. The Law was part and parcel of their Jewish identity, yet many of the people had embraced the teachings of Jesus as well. After meeting Jesus himself in an astonishing post-resurrection encounter, Paul realized that our acknowledgement of God’s love for us and our need to love one another were what truly mattered. With that, Paul took in all that Jesus had taught and he made Jesus’ mission his own. Luke’s gospel (Luke 10:1-12, 17-20) tells us that Jesus had spread his teaching by sending out seventy-two disciples two-by-two. He asked them to set aside their own concerns and their own lives in order to share God’s hope and enduring love with those who hadn’t yet heard of these things. Jesus sent them on their way to offer God’s message with the hope that it would take root within others who would go on to share his word and to live accordingly.

As I consider my “on paper” acquaintance with both my would-be author friend and Corrie ten Boom, I wonder if they realize just how far-reaching their sharing of their relationships with God has been. Though that would-be author may never have written a word beyond her title, she certainly added a spark to my relationship with God. Corrie ten Boom endured far more suffering than most of us ever will, yet she insisted that we nestle in God’s loving care. Corrie added to that spark between God and me as well! It seems to me that we’re all called to spread the good news of God’s love for us. Whether we travel two-by-two or go it alone, each of us is invited to believe for ourselves and to share with all who will hear us that there is a place in God’s arms for every one of us.

©2019 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

*Corrie ten Boom. Don’t Wrestle, Just Nestle. Published January 1, 1979 by Fleming H Revell Co (first published 1978)

Advertisements

W is for Write

Good and upright is God
who shows us the way.
God guides the humble to justice
and teaches the humble the way.

From Psalm 25:8-9

W is for Write. Though I’d like to think that I do most of my writing at my keyboard, the truth is that I write perhaps more prolifically with my attitudes, words and actions. Though I’d like to leave something significant to posterity in written form, the truths I share through the life I live will be far more long-lasting. A wise priest once shared that perhaps the point of all of our lives is to write a gospel by the way we live. Though I first heard this challenge years ago, I’m impelled to embrace it these days. Just as no bookstore owner can predict who will pick up and browse through the best sellers, travel books and bibles in stock, I can’t predict who will read my attitudes, my next word or the things I do. Whether I opt to or not, I’m writing my gospel with every breath I take. I can’t choose who will “read” what I produce at any given moment, but I can choose what I put out there to be read.

I find this all a bit frightening as I’ve uttered and written some things which I’ve hoped will be forgotten and I’ve done some things that I wish I could undo. Unfortunately, I can’t edit these things out of my life. Sadly, I find my only consolation in the knowledge that my fellow humans share a bit of regret with me at one time or another.

As we continue with this process of writing our lives’ gospels, let’s try to omit those regret-inducing errors. Let’s encourage one another when our results are positive and let’s edit one another mercifully when we haven’t done our best.

Loving God, inspire us! Help us to reveal your loving ways in everything we say and do and write.

©2019 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Just Pace Yourself!

For a thousand years in your sight are as a day…
From Psalm 90:4

The day after July 4, the house was quiet. Our sons had taken their dad out for a belated Father’s Day excursion. I’d decided to use the time to write and to walk outdoors before the day’s heat set in. When I headed out, I noticed remnants of fireworks strewn about. Before walking, I swept up the contraband which had no doubt entertained someone nearby. As I worked, a delivery truck sped down the street. The driver’s urgency indicated that he was likely making up for his holiday off. I couldn’t help smiling because he reminded me of Mr. UPS, my favorite employee of that company.

Some years ago, Mr. UPS frequented our front door. Every time he set down a box in my foyer, he asked, “More books?” Mr. UPS knew that I write because he had the dubious privilege of delivering hundreds of books to me. In spite of their weight, he presented each box with a smile. I replied in the affirmative and then added that I was struggling with a year-long devotional. He smiled more broadly as he suggested, “Just pace yourself!” This advice was quite helpful back then just as it was on July 5.

After sweeping the driveway, I walked. I also gave a good deal of thought to Mr. UPS’s suggestion from long ago. “Just pace yourself!” I repeated. As I walked, I considered the beautiful flowers that adorn so many of my neighbors’ homes. “Those flowers didn’t plant themselves!” I mused. “They’re blooming today because someone made the time to plant them and to take care of them.” With that, I quickened my pace, finished that walk and headed home. As I sat at my keyboard, I reminded myself, “Your book isn’t writing itself either!” after completing a few more days’ reflections, I pulled up that neglected file and began again…

Dear God, thank you for the messengers who remind us to use the time we’re given well.

©2018 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Surrounded By Goodness!

Seek good and not evil,
that you may live.

Amos 5:14

I continued my efforts to purge the clutter from our home by tackling my desk. I admit that I didn’t quite finish the job. Rather, I tended to a stack of notes and clippings which I’d saved for months. A few were more than a year old! In the process, I unearthed a reflection my niece forwarded to me some time ago. Cece’s only comment was, “I thought you’d like this one.”

The reflection was actually a commitment on the part of the author to look for the best in everyone and everything she’d encounter that day. She would expect no proactive activity on the part of others. Rather, she’d seek out goodness, regardless of how well-disguised it might be. While acknowledging the trials and tribulations which might mute the goodness in others, she promised herself that she’s look for that goodness just the same.

I admit that I begin some days with far less optimism than this fellow writer. I also admit that I prefer her optimism to the pessimism which too often lurks beneath the surface in us all. With that admission, I’ve set that reflection on top of my neatly piled notes. This time, I won’t lose it in the piles on my desk. This time, I’ll read it often to remind me to seek out the best in everyone. Thank you, Cece!

Generous God, give us eyes to see and hearts to appreciate the goodness around us.

©2018 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Prioritize and Write! Right?

Hear, O Lord,the sound of my call;
hear, O Lord, and answer me.

Psalm 27:7

July proved to be a crazy month which ended with our family vacation. This adventure included our sons’ daughters-in-law and our four grandchildren. We had a wonderful time and, needless to say, my husband and I returned home exhausted, happily exhausted. Between loads of laundry, I peeked at our August calendar to confirm that this promises to be a far less frenetic month. After confirming that most dates are free of commitments, I noticed a word I’d written in large block letters at the top of this new calendar page: BOOK! With that, the free-time I’d anticipated for the month ahead seemed to have morphed into a writing frenzy.

I’ve alluded to my frustration over not completing my book multiple times. When I printed BOOK! next to AUGUST on my calendar, I made a mental note to make this the month I return to that manuscript. This time, however, I’ve also made a mental NOT to engage in a writing frenzy. In the past, I’ve spent every available minute at my keyboard. I kept phone calls brief and leisure reading became nonexistent. I exercised less and gave up solving an occasional Sudoku and daily crossword puzzles. Television became a non-entity as well. Though spending time with family and friends brings my greatest joy, I actually felt “bothered” by invitations to socialize.

My skewed priorities added nothing to the quality of my manuscript and the quality of my life. On this August 1, I’m happy to share that I will adhere to my new writing schedule which allows time for the other priorities in my life, especially the people I love.

Patient God, remind me often to make love my main priority.

©2017 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Perfect In God’s Eyes

I’ve engaged in a writing frenzy as of late. My husband and I will travel to Israel soon and I have to complete several of these reflections before we leave. I’m grateful that the scriptures are rich in inspiration. Unfortunately, I’ve hindered my own progress at the moment by fixating upon the last line of a passage from Matthew’s gospel (Matthew 5:38-48) today. After telling his disciples that they must rise above the expectations of those around them, Jesus added, “So be perfect, just as your heavenly Father is perfect.” While I’m not certain of the disciples’ feelings about this expectation, Jesus’ seems to challenge me beyond my capabilities. Perfection isn’t easy to come by for me or for any of us for that matter!

I have reason for my discouragement. While looking for a flash drive to share some files, I found a used one with a little tag on it which read, “I Met God…Book”. I cringed over this discovery as I haven’t given much thought to that book as of late. I started writing it four years ago. Though I have ninety pages completed, I’ll need to double them to complete my story. Many who read my reflections remark that they look forward to these encounters. I take these kind words to heart every time I hear them. As a result, I decided some time ago to share the source of my inspiration through my book. Though my lifetime to date is as flawed as I am, it provides many of the stories which I share here. While I’m uncertain of the Almighty’s motives, I’m quite certain that God has been extremely generous in using my life’s circumstances to inspire me.

It seems that everyone and everything I experience sheds light on God’s love and God’s presence among us. I can’t walk our cul-de-sac or the mall without being reminded of God along the way. My book tells the story of this phenomenon’s evolution throughout my life. The problem is that whenever I return to my manuscript, I edit everything I’ve written to date. Every time I complete a chapter, I second-guess my effort. This compels me to reread and to edit even further. When I found that flash drive the other day, I wondered if I will ever finish that book. And, if I do finish it, I admit that it won’t be perfect.

Fortunately, I don’t always have to rely on my own resources when I prepare for these writings. Obviously, I read the scriptures. The good news is that I also reference commentaries when in doubt about a particular passage. These commentaries explain vocabulary and other background information which is unfamiliar to those of us who aren’t scripture scholars. When I returned to today’s readings one last time, I reread the commentary regarding today’s gospel. “How could I have missed this?” I asked myself. The notes I found explain that the word “perfect” which Jesus used to describe God comes from an ancient word for entire, complete and full-grown. When I considered this, I realized that God doesn’t expect any of us to be without flaws. Rather, God asks only that we evolve into entire, complete and full-grown versions of ourselves. Apparently, this is quite enough for our loving Creator.

Whenever you and I put our best efforts into the things we do, we work toward becoming entire, complete and full-grown. Jesus asked his disciples to “be perfect, just as your heavenly Father is perfect” in the unique manner in which each one was capable. This is also all that God asks of you and me. With that, I returned to this writing, but not to the frenzy. Finally, I realized that God will never stop recognizing the potential in me. As long as I plug away as best I can, I’m making myself a bit more entire, complete and full-grown. God chooses not to ignore our capacity to be perfect in these ways; nor should we. So it is that God invites us to embrace our circumstances and to make the best of them as only we can. With every attempt, we emerge a bit more entire, a bit more complete and a bit more full-grown. In the end, we really are perfect in God’s eyes.

Maybe I’ll finish my book after all…

©2017 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved