Bethlehem’s Gift… Then and Now

I just helped my sister to take leave of the hospital where she has recuperated for the past eight days.  Though Cecele made it through surgery with flying colors last Monday, each day afterward served its purpose in preparing her to return home.  This morning, when I received the call that Cecele would be discharged, I wanted to see for myself that my sister was well enough to go home.  I saw Cecele last night, and I had my doubts.  I’m happy to report that an hour before her release today, I found Cecele’s appearance and her ability to move about to be markedly improved.  Cecele’s last IV line had been removed.  She had completed two walks around the post-surgical recovery floor, traded her hospital gown for street clothes and was ready to go.  When I arrived, Cecele was sitting straight up in her chair, anxiously awaiting the wheelchair ride to her son’s car for the drive home.

My sister seemed very much at peace as she prepared to leave the hospital.  Her son Ralph had arrived early to insure Cecele’s smooth discharge.  Her prescriptions had been ordered and her belongings were packed.  Her doctor and nurse made their final visits.  Cecele’s daughter had inquired about her home care needs and arranged for a caretaker named Bethlehem to help Cecele as she completes her recovery.  When Cecele’s discharge became imminent this morning, Bethlehem made her way to the hospital.  I admit that the opportunity to meet this young woman contributed to my decision to be there for Cecele’s discharge.  While we waited, I asked Cecele if she had eaten lunch.  She said she had and that she also made sure that Bethlehem had eaten.  Bethlehem immediately piped in, “You don’t have to worry about taking care of me. I am here to take care of you.”  Just as quickly, Cecele added, “But I will worry about you because you’re here with me.”  Their eyes met, and I  knew Cecele and Bethlehem had bonded.  At peace, indeed!

When Ralph left with his mom and Bethlehem, I walked back to the parking garage.  As I made my way to my car, I whispered, “Thank you, Dear God, for Bethlehem –both of them!”  I couldn’t help thinking that this young woman had already revealed a glimpse of the promise offered by the little town of the same name so long ago.  I continued my prayer, adding “I just knew her name was a good sign.  Thank you so much!”  Unbeknownst to her, Bethlehem has brought a world of hope, promise and peace to my sister and to the family who loves her.

On this Feast of the Most Holy Trinity, we celebrate God’s presence among us.  Our Creator God’s love impelled the Divine to give form to that love by fashioning this universe and all of the creatures who inhabit it.  When humankind failed to grasp the goodness of God’s gifts and we looked elsewhere for happiness, God relentlessly pursued us.  When we continued to run from God’s pursuit, heaven touched the earth in the person of Jesus.  From the moment Mary gave birth in that tiny town of Bethlehem, God walked among us.  Jesus emerged from this humble beginning to reveal the truth about God’s love.  Jesus came to clarify what we had too long ignored and too long misunderstood.  Still, we turned on Jesus, deserted him and saw to his death.  Jesus responded by rising from the dead to ensure us once and for all that God’s love prevails over everything.  To be certain that we would never again lose sight of God’s loving presence, God’s Holy Spirit came and remains among us.  Though the Spirit is not often revealed in tongues of fire, the Spirit is revealed just the same.

As I consider how to celebrate this Feast of the Most Holy Trinity, God’s ongoing presence in my life comes to mind.  The Spirit has nudged me along through the numerous people God has given me to love and through those who have so generously loved me.  Whether I am at my best or at my worst, I find that I cannot help being grateful for God’s presence to me in creation and in those around me.  My only response to God today must be gratitude.

So it is that I celebrate the God of love –Creator, Son and Spirit–with thanksgiving.  Thank you, Dear God, for entering into the moments of our lives, especially when you come in the gentle presence of those like Bethlehem who unknowingly reveal you in their loving care.

©2012 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved


God’s Holy Spirit Urges Us On

I have spent a good deal of time with my niece over the past few weeks.  Cece has flown in from California numerous times to be with her mom as she battles cancer.  Cece extended her most recent stay by a week due to her mom’s unexpected surgery last Monday.  These additional days with Cece certainly lifted my sister Cecele’s spirit.  Though Cecele has many prescriptions which safeguard her health, her daughter’s presence out does them all!  Cece is a very spiritual person who exudes peace.  She is absolutely convinced of God’s presence in everything, and she approaches life accordingly.  So it is that Cece accompanies her mom on this difficult journey with great resolve and the certainty that all will be well in the end.  

As we waited for my sister at the hospital one afternoon, Cece pulled out her iPad and began to type.  When I asked what she was doing, Cece replied, “I’m praying.  Someone asked me to pray, so I’m sending my prayer to him.”  I responded with silence so Cece could continue.  As I waited, I wondered how long my niece has been sharing her prayers for others with them.  As I considered all of the people for whom I have prayed over the course of my life, I realized that I had actually told only a few of them what my prayer for them had been.  Even then, I never provided them a word-for-word account of my conversation with God.  “What an amazing gift it would be,” I thought, “to receive a prayer offered specifically for me or for my intention.” 

This afternoon, I received just such a gift in a card from a dear friend.  Carol and her husband Kent are founding members of our parish family.  Carol and I became fast friends while helping our priests to complete a list of “To Dos” as we prepared for our first weekend Masses and parish life afterward.  Kent oversaw the voting process when we selected “St. Paul the Apostle” as our parish name.  Unfortunately, when Kent’s job required a move, Carol and I were left to maintain our friendship on a long-distance basis.  All the while, I have kept Carol in the loop regarding St. Paul’s via mail and email.  Carol has kept me in God’s loop through her encouragement and prayers which always seem to arrive in the nick of time.  This was the case today. 

When I looked through the mail, familiar handwriting drew my attention to the card addressed to me.  “How did she know?” I asked myself.  In the enclosed card, Carol had written, “Just a note to let you know how very much I think of you and Cecele each and every day.  Please let her know I care.  I know how difficult it is to be supportive all the time, but your heart is so big.  I know God will keep filling it with an extra portion of His Holy Spirit.  You are so special.  Love & prayers, Carol.”  Love and prayers, indeed!  Yes, my tears did drip onto my keyboard as I typed Carol’s message for you.  Yes, my tears fell even more profusely when I recognized the amazing gifts that my niece Cece offers to her friends in need and that my friend Carol offers to me each and every time they turn to God on our behalf.  I couldn’t help looking upward as I thought of God smiling with pride over these prayers so generously and selflessly offered.  Perhaps our greatest moments are those times when we set aside the concerns of this earth and turn our attention to God on behalf of another soul.

My niece speaks often of God’s Spirit at work among us just as my friend references the same in almost every email and card she sends.  It seems to me that while I sometimes allow the troubles of life on this earth to overwhelm me, Cece and Carol allow God’s Spirit full reign to overwhelm them.  This is precisely what Jesus hoped for when he promised to send God’s Spirit to his followers.  Fortunately for us all, on that first Pentecost, the disciples responded immediately and powerfully in spite of the fear that had paralyzed them since Jesus’ death.  Fortunately for me, my dear niece and my dear friend do the same far more often than they realize.  Perhaps our best celebration of this great Feast of Pentecost is to do the same.  May we open ourselves up to God’s Spirit deep within us and may we respond to the Spirit’s nudges as though everything depends upon us.  For, indeed, it does.       

©2012 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Our Only Option… To Carry On As Jesus Did

After my walk this morning, I looked forward to writing for the rest of the day.  When I sat at my PC to get started, I found that I could no longer log in with a simple click of my mouse.  “Ugh!” I moaned.  I had renewed my security software the day before.  I had also added a product that promised to clean up my PC systems and to increase their speed.  This product was remotely installed as part of the deal.  After typing in my login information, I found my computer to be more sluggish than ever.  I also found that my husband’s login information also had to be reentered.  When I attempted to deal with an email that required me to log in, I found that my saved information on that site had also been lost.

Much to my dismay, I spent the next several minutes with the vendor who kindly refunded the purchase price of the unhelpful product.  He also advised that I simply uninstall the program.  For more than an hour, I attempted to do just that with absolutely no success.  It was lunchtime when I allowed myself a break to calm my frazzled nerves and the rumbling in my stomach.  My husband, the good deacon, joined me after his own long morning at work.  Some technology-related changes complicated his every effort as well.  He is also fighting a cold which intensified his edginess.  With our somewhat disgruntled moods in sync, we sat down for lunch.

Interestingly enough, Mike and I spent only a minute or two relaying our misery to one another.  Though we had each spent the entire morning entrenched in our own variety of frustration, we knew well that our problems were minute in the grand scheme of things.  Mike’s hospice patients certainly deal with far more important issues than we had dealt with that day.  My ailing sister certainly faces more serious dilemmas than my discombobulated computer mess.  So it was that our conversation moved on to the dire difficulties that plague our loved ones and this unruly world of ours.

When I returned to my keyboard, it occurred to me that Mike’s and my troubles could have rendered each of us dysfunctional for the rest of the day.  Rather, he set out to visit three more of his patients and I returned to focus upon the Ascension of the Lord for this writing.  “What is it,” I wondered, “that allows us to move beyond the little stuff?”  When I reread today’s scripture passages from Acts (1:1-11), Ephesians (1:17-23) and Mark (16:15-20), I received my response.

Just before Jesus ascended into heaven, he told the disciples, “Go into the world and proclaim the gospel to every creature…”  Though the Holy Spirit had not yet come to set his followers on fire, Jesus sent them off to continue his work.  Jesus seemed to say, “I’ve given you the best of my teaching.  Now use it!  No Spirit in sight yet?  Get over it and get out there!”  When the disciples’ world was turned topsy-turvy by Jesus’ death, Jesus rose and brought them the promise of eternal life. When Jesus’ second departure threatened to do the same, Jesus issued the disciples’ marching orders without hesitation.  Jesus fully expected that the disciples would move beyond their own fears and tribulations to do just that.  Though their efforts were often as imperfect as our own, the disciples’ did as Jesus asked.  They preached the gospel in all that they said and did.  It seems to me that the eloquent efforts of Jesus’ first disciples and many good souls for centuries since leave us no choice other than to do as Jesus asked as well.

On this Feast of the Ascension of the Lord, I admit that I pray for a miraculous cure for my computer ills just as I’m sure Mike prays that the Holy Spirit will guide him through the technology mayhem at work.  I must also share that I pray with much more fervor and act with far more zeal on behalf of those who need Divine Intervention more than I.  When I funnel my efforts as Jesus would, my own troubles pale in comparison.  Sometimes, they even disappear.  It occurs to me that this is Jesus’ point today.  “I’ve placed my work in your hands,” Jesus seems to say, “because I know you’re up to the task.  Stop worrying about yourself, take care of the people I’ve given you to love, and all will be well.”

©2012 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved


We Are God’s Chosen Ones

Two women occupy my thoughts this morning.  I have never met the first.  She lives in Germany where she mourns her father’s death.  Her dad had only reached his fifty-ninth birthday which suggests that she is probably thirty-something.  Because her mother passed away a few years ago, this young woman is left alone to care for her mentally challenged sister.  As she prepares to bury her father, she bears the weight of the world on her shoulders.  She wonders how she will survive as she juggles her own life, her sister’s care and her grief.  The pain of this young woman’s struggle is so intense that she finds it impossible to believe in God’s existence these days.

I know the second woman very well.  I’ve shared this privilege with you as I’ve chronicled some of my sister’s journey through cancer treatment.  Cecele has completed four rounds of chemotherapy as of this writing.  Today, she awaits that all-important body scan which will reveal just how successful these treatments have been.  In the mean time, my sister’s journey continues to be both a physical and an emotional rollercoaster.  Cycles of blood draws-chemotherapy-injections-blood draws-fatigue-no appetite-loss of energy-feeling better-feeling good repeat themselves somewhat predictably these days.  Cecele’s support system of family, friends and medical team usually keeps her afloat.  Still, there are the times when her physical and emotional pain intensify because it seems that there is nothing she can do improve her lot.  On these days, hope becomes an elusive butterfly which flits away beyond Cecele’s reach.

My friend in Germany, my sister and numerous other suffering souls give me much to pray about.  I admit to monopolizing my conversations with our Loving God as I describe each ones suffering with painstaking detail.  I wonder if my relentless monologue causes the Good Deity to tiptoe away before I’ve finished stating what I am certain our Dear Lord knows to be the obvious.

After finally ending one of my “To Do List” prayers, I sat at my keyboard to prepare for this writing.  As I searched though the mess on my desk for my book of Sunday readings, I came across the program from this year’s Concert For Life.  I’ve attended this concert for the dozen years since Matt Wessel began to perform his music in response to his father’s and many others battles with cancer.  I hummed my favorite of Matt’s songs, God’s Chosen One, as I perused the program.  I couldn’t help myself as I sang, “I may be weak, but I’m still strong. The love of God helps me carry on today. ‘His will not mine be done.’  I may be scared, but I’ll go on. My love for life helps me carry on today. I am God’s chosen one.”  As I sang on, I realized God had begun to attend to that “To Do List” by addressing my uncertainty first.  God seemed to say, “I know you understand this, Mary, but I’m reminding you just the same that my absolute love for each of you is behind everything!”  A chill ran down my spine as I realized God had begun attending to my “To Do List” long before I wrote it.

The late hour urged me to set aside that concert program and to get to this writing.  Finally, I found my book and turned to John’s gospel where God continued to answer to my prayer.  In this passage (John 15:9-17), Jesus offers his discourse regarding God’s love.  Jesus chose his words very carefully as he assured us, “I no longer call you slaves, because a slave does not know what his master is doing.  I have called you friends, because I have told you everything I have heard from my Father.  It was not you who chose me, but I who chose you…”  As I considered these words, I felt my face grow warm with embarrassment.

Whenever I question God’s attentiveness to my loved ones near and far, God responds with precise certitude.  Though I was right in expressing my concerns through my prayer, I also needed to express my faith in God’s unquestionable love and care.  Just as God assured me through Matt’s lyrics and John’s gospel that I am not alone, God will speak to my friend in Germany and to my sister.  God chose each one of us to be who we are and to be where we are out of absolute love.  God also chooses to walk at our sides every step of the way.  By this reading, I am certain that God has continued the best of heaven’s work within me, within these two special women and within us all.

©2012 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

The lyrics cited above are used with Matt Wessel’s permission.  If you would like more information about Matt’s journey or his amazing music, please see: