Hold Onto The Joy

All you peoples, clap your hands;
shout to God with cries of gladness.

From Psalm 47:2-3

This morning, I spent an hour organizing my computer desk. I had accumulated quite an assortment of items I hoped would bring inspiration to future articles or reflections. As I made my way down the pile, a bright red booklet caught my eye. I had unburied the program from my granddaughters’ Christmas Concert at their preschool. Though it is long after Easter, much less Christmas, I stopped cleaning, got online and went to my husband’s Facebook page. After several minutes, I worked my way back to the video of the girls’ performances. There they were singing “Mary Had a Little Baby” and “Away in a Manger.” They enacted each verse perfectly. During another hymn, they clapped their hands and then shook tambourines with all of their might.

I returned to the mess on my desk with an unbridled smile. I simply could not shake the Christmas Joy that my granddaughters’ performances had renewed in me. I wondered if I had shaken off the joy of Easter a bit too easily. So it is that I return to this page with a pledge to bring a bit more of Easter to the days ahead.

Risen Jesus, when you rose from the dead you sealed your promise to bring me to everlasting life. What more do I need to bring joy to every day?

©2014 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Letting Go Gracefully

“So you also are now in anguish.
But I will see you again, and your hearts will rejoice,
and no one will take your joy away from you.”
From John 16:20-23

A dozen years ago and a few weeks after Easter, my son Tim remembered to tell me that my mom had called Easter morning for directions to our house. She was not sure of where to exit though she had been here a hundred times. I did not think much of this until several weeks later when my mom shared that she had gone home after trying to make it to a meeting. “I couldn’t remember how to get there,” she had said. Because this was also familiar territory for my mom, I began to worry.

When my sisters and I compared notes, we decided it was time to keep closer tabs on our mom. Within a few months, my mom relinquished her car keys and took up residence with my sister and her husband. Though my mom always intended to live independently and not to be a burden (her word), the truth is that she accepted these changes with great relief. My mom admitted that she did not want to hurt anyone while driving and that she very much looked forward to not cooking any longer!

Loving God, my mother believed that you would take care of her and she allowed you to do so according to your plan, not her own. Regardless of the initial pain, she believed all would end well. And, indeed, it did.

©2014 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

When In Doubt…

“And behold, I am with you always,
until the end of the age.”

From Matthew 28:16-20

I plodded down the block to our parish rectory completely discouraged. From the time I was little, Father O’Connell had made it a point to make time for me whenever I needed encouragement. This particular day, I struggled with my mom’s upcoming wedding. My own dad had died three years earlier, and I had encouraged my future step-father’s courtship of my mom. I baked cookies for my mom and Bill every other day so they could enjoy them as they held hands watching television during their weeknight dates. When we celebrated Bill’s birthday, I intentionally sang “Happy birthday, Daddy” rather than singing his name. When Bill left for home each evening, I crawled to the top of the stairs to see if he and my mother kissed good-bye as I felt this was a sure sign that they would get married. Still, I worried about Bill’s impending presence in our household. When I expressed my worries to Father, he pointed out just how lucky I was to have God in heaven, my dad in heaven and now a new dad here to take care of me. “What more do you need?” he asked. Reassured, I skipped all the way home.

Dear Father in heaven, I thank you for being with me in everything and for the wonderful people who continue to remind me of your loving care.

©2014 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

God Takes Care

“…the Lord of heaven and earth, does not dwell in sanctuaries made by human hands, nor is he served by human hands because he needs anything. Rather it is he who gives to everyone life and breath and everything.”From Acts 17:22-18:1

During my sister’s battle with cancer, she hit a rocky patch along the way. Anything that could possibly go wrong seemed to do just that. Understandably, Cecele became quite discouraged and unable to hope any longer for her miracle. My niece certainly understood her mother’s discouragement, but she would not accept this as reason to give up hope. So it was that, in no uncertain terms, she explained my sister’s position through God’s eyes.

After speaking to her mom, my niece shared, “I reminded her that her only job is to be grateful in every moment, grateful to be breathing in life; that God/the universe is working for her highest and best good; that she is enveloped with healing, love and protection. I told her that her job is to remember that in every moment God is working to heal her. God is taking care of the hard stuff. That isn’t her job. She is to rest in the ease, grace and love in every moment she is given.”

I consider my niece’s advice to her mom to be worthy of all of our attention.

Gracious God, thank you for the strong faith of those who simply seem to know your love for us. Open the hearts of all who doubt to your presence, your healing and your love.

©2014 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Love As God Loves

“This is my commandment:
love one another as I love you.
No one has greater love than this,
to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.”
From John 15:9-17

I admit to lots of anger over the suffering of those I have been given to love. Whether they are my own family members or children starving to death half a world away, I find it difficult to accept that there actually is nothing I can do to help. My frustration is amplified by my conviction that our problems can be solved if we consider them from a loving perspective. This is not a Pollyanna or pie-in-the-sky impossibility. Years of work with some tough youngsters taught me otherwise. When I approached a troubled student with sincerity and genuine concern, he or she sensed this and responded in kind.

What a different world this would be if we set aside our own pride and our own agendas. What a different world this would be if we did lay down our lives for one another.

Loving God, your Son Jesus laid down his life for me. If I had been the only soul in need of redemption, He would have laid down his life just the same. Help me to return this amazing love in kind.

©2014 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Memorial Day

For the Lord loves his people,
and he adorns the lowly with victory.

Psalm 149:4

Our Memorial Day observances traditionally recount the sacrifice made by those who gave their lives in service to this country. Whether they were drafted into service or they enlisted by choice, each one fulfilled an obligation which he or she accepted to the point of death. Though some may have wrestled with doubt, wondering if anything was worth dying for, we know the final outcome. This weekend, tens of thousands of flags decorate their graves. These flags herald those who completed, as best they could, what they set out to do.

Our Memorial Day remembrances have grown to include all of those who have passed from this life to the next. Though they may not have donned military uniforms to endure the trials of battle, those whom we mourn assumed a role of great importance to us. Whether our mother or father, our husband or wife, our child, our relative or our friend, those whom we mourn did something similar to that which our military personnel did. They responded to what they saw as their roles in this life, and they fulfilled those roles as best they could. At times, our loved ones achieved great success and their impacts upon our lives were sources of great joy or growth or satisfaction. At times, they failed miserably, and their impacts upon us were precisely the opposite. Perhaps they walked away for a while from a father, a mother, a spouse, a child or a friend. Sometimes, we civilians can be tempted to be AWOL from a commitment that seems to require too much. In the end, we mourn our loved ones, sometimes because of their humanity and sometimes in spite of it.

There is something very Christ-like about the way we remember those who have passed. Often, after we bid them our final farewells, our memories become less focused upon their failures. When we reminisce, we tend to recall the happy or amusing or glorious times we shared. In our family, my father died when most of us were very young. Within a year of his death, the man had become a saint in our collective consciousness. Years later, when our mother married a wonderful, but very different man, I marveled at his bravery. Following in my father’s footsteps was an impossible task. Yet, upon my step-dad’s death many years later, the same phenomenon occurred. A second father-turned-saint occupied our memories. Need I tell you that my mother-turned-saint resides above in all of her glory as well?

Memorial Day offers us the opportunity to celebrate Easter joy once again in the name of those who know that joy firsthand. There is something holy to be found as we relish our relationships with those among us and with those we mourn. The selective memories that bestow sainthood upon our very human loved ones reflect the selective vision of God. Our visions of eternal life reveal something sacred that swells our hearts with joy. Truly, the joy our loved ones experience awaits us all. Easter joy will be realized in the welcoming eyes of God who will greet each of us upon our arrival home.

Today, as we remember our military personnel and all of the loved ones who have lived their lives for us, let us smile between the tears. There is good reason to rejoice for them and for ourselves!

Thank you, God, for the promise of heaven and for the loved ones with whom we will share it!

©2014 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved