Trust Me

“Why are you so terrified?
Why are you lacking in faith?”

From Mark 4:35-41

It was Monday morning when we put our son Mike on the school bus. Our neighbor Ellie would keep Mike after school to wait for news. My husband and I headed to the hospital to have our second baby.

I had experienced contractions for days, so we expected a fairly quick delivery. However, it was several hours later when a nurse threw a gown at my husband and rushed me into the delivery room. The staff had detected fetal distress. When he made his appearance shortly thereafter, Timothy was white as a ghost. A nurse whisked our baby away without allowing me to hold him. After some whispering among the medical team, our doctor asked us not to worry, and then added that he was calling in a specialist.

My husband and I prayed all night. The next morning, the doctor shared that our baby might be suffering from a grave illness which would cause some level of debilitation before taking him by age three. This news devasted us and our prayers continued. Later in the day, Sister Charles who ran the hospital lab hurried into our room. She said, “I’ve looked at Timothy. Trust me. He will be just fine.”

Twenty-nine years later, I am happy to report that Sister Charles was absolutely right!

Dear God, I wept through my prayers that night, begging all the while for Tim’s life. Thank you for my wonderful son –both of them!

©2013 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

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Shake Off The Dust

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

From Mark 6:7-13

I find it extremely difficult to shake the dust off of my feet. 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 the way Jesus did.

Still, there are people who really are not good for us. They may not cause physical harm, but they may 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 does not 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.

This may seem 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.

©2013 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Share The Faith

“When they fulfilled all the prescriptions
of the law of the Lord, they returned
to their own town of Nazareth.
The child grew and became strong,
filled with wisdom,
and the favor of God was upon him.”

From Luke 2:22-40

Our first grandchild was born not long before my husband’s cousin arrived from Croatia for a visit. After a years-long search, my husband had located his Croatian family. When we visited them two years earlier, one cousin, Josip, promised to return the favor by coming to the United States.

As it happened, Josip’s trip coincided with our new granddaughter’s baptism. Josip was overwhelmed by being a part of this special event. He had guided us to the parish church where my husband’s grandfather had been baptized. Now, Josip would celebrate the same ritual four generations later with Grandpa’s great-great granddaughter.

Josip’s presence certainly enriched my appreciation of my granddaughter’s Baptism. That link to past generations within our own family emphasized the link we all share as members of God’s Family.

Dear God, I find great comfort in the rituals we share, perhaps because I find You there. Help us to live up to the ideals that underlie our observances and to teach our children to do the same.

©2013 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

God Listens

Throughout his time among us, Jesus offered countless revealing glimpses of our good and gracious God. The image most dear to me came in the Parable of the Prodigal Son. That welcoming and forgiving father with arms outstretched to his wayward son encouraged me early on to seek an equally intimate relationship with God. I admit that it has taken a lifetime for me to appreciate the demands of true intimacy. When one is intimate with another, one hides nothing. Those involved in such a relationship expose themselves in all of their vulnerability with every flaw and every virtue in full view. When God is a partner in such a relationship, God knows even those things which a person does not know or understand about him or herself. For us imperfect humans, this is both a frightening and absolutely life-giving arrangement. Acknowledging that God sees us and loves us as we truly are frees us to approach God with absolute confidence, the same confidence which Abraham exhibits in Genesis 18:20-32.

The God to whom Abraham speaks is both approachable and compassionate. The author of Genesis portrays this encounter as a conversation during which the Lord and Abraham walk together, just as we walk along with those we love. Though aware that he is in the presence of the Almighty, Abraham speaks freely as he bargains for the lives of the innocent inhabitants of Sodom. Though the Lord intends to respond to the outcry regarding the city’s sinfulness, God listens to Abraham. Abraham begins by begging that the city be spared if there are just fifty innocent people there. Then, he pleads on for forty-five, forty, thirty, twenty and ten innocent lives. The Lord responds sympathetically. The next chapter of Genesis reports that the Lord is mindful of Abraham’s request and spares the lives of Lot and his family.

The God of Abraham is the God to whom Jesus referred his disciples in Luke’s gospel (11:1-13). Jesus had just returned from praying when the disciples asked him to teach them how to pray. Jesus offered them The Lord’s Prayer and some important instructions regarding prayer. Jesus reminded the disciples of Abraham’s persistence and God’s generous response. Jesus speaks further of a man who responds to his neighbor’s need in the middle of the night, not so much out of love as out of weariness at the neighbor’s persistence. Jesus continues, “And I tell you, ask and you will receive; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you.” Jesus points out the disciples’ concern for their own children: “What father among you would hand his son a snake when he asks for a fish? Or hand him a scorpion when he asks for an egg? If you then, who are wicked, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will God in heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him?”

I have taken Jesus at his word more often than I dare admit here. One poignant example occurred during my mother’s final illness. My sisters and I gathered to tell our mother that cancer was about to change her life forever. Early on, I called upon the God of Abraham to walk with my mother and us as we began this difficult journey. Like Abraham, as soon as I had God’s attention, I pleaded on. First, I asked for my mother’s freedom from pain. When that request was granted, I went on. “Take away the confusion and allow her to hang on to her dignity,” I begged. When I felt assured of this, I requested the strength my sisters and I needed to remain present to our mother for as long as necessary. I knew God was listening as always, so I continued. I began to set limits on as long as necessary. “If she was my daughter, oh God, I would have her home for her birthday!” I challenged God to hear and to respond to my prayer as Abraham and Jesus taught me to do.

As my mother’s birthday drew near, she seemed pleased that she would reach that milestone. Perhaps she had done her own pleading because it was six days after her birthday when my mother embraced eternal life. The night before my mother’s funeral, I apologized to our good and patient God for my insolent and demanding prayer. I also thanked God for listening to me once again. If I could not have turned to my God in my need, I would have had no place to turn. The same is true for each of us. So it is that I join Abraham and Jesus in inviting you to talk to God, the One who listens- always!

©2013 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

At Home With God

So he went in and said to them, “Why this commotion and weeping? The child is not dead but asleep.”
From Mark 5:21-43

Parents aren’t supposed to bury their children… When my husband’s cousin Mary became ill, her parents responded immediately. Mary’s Down Syndrome had taken a toll on her heart, so every cold required a serious regimen of care to prevent further complications. Mary enjoyed a much longer life than expected as a result of her parents’ diligence. Mary was twenty-two when those dreaded respiratory complications set in. This illness ended in the hospital stay that would be her last.

When we received the call, my husband was inconsolable. “This isn’t right. She could have lived longer!” Mike moaned. When we drove over to Mary’s home to offer our condolences, her parents greeted us with amazing news. Mike’s aunt and uncle smiled as they shared, “Just before Mary passed away, she told us that she was going with Jesus and she smiled.” It was then that Mike accepted God’s timing and he smiled, too. He and Mary’s parents could not help being happy for this precious child who now lives at home with God. Though all concerned continue to miss Mary every day, they find peace in this.

Gentle God, please touch the hearts of every mom and dad who has lost a child. You alone understand their grief. Console them with a generous share of peace today.

©2013 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

He Shares God’s Word

With many such parables
he spoke the word to them
as they were able to understand it.

From Mark 4:26-34

In his capacity as deacon, my husband preaches at our Sunday Masses about once per month. The truth is that Mike is a very good homilist. He seems to touch the hearts of those who hear him as evidenced in the many positive comments he receives after Mass. The rest of the truth is that Mike spends weeks preparing for each of these talks.

Regardless of the many compliments he receives, Mike never takes these opportunities to speak for granted. He struggles and reflects and rethinks until he is half-convinced that he is ready. This means that he has come up with a story which illustrates what he perceives to be the intent of the scriptures.

Only after he has completed his last homily for the weekend is he somewhat convinced that he was ready after all. I think this bit of uncertainty keeps Mike on his toes. It helps him to be more creative and more effective than he ever dreamed possible.

Dear God, thank You for Mike and for all those who spread Your good news. Bless them with the inspiration they need to do justice to Your message. Bless all of us with receptive hearts, that we may attend to Your word wherever we encounter it.

©2013 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved