A Child’s Gift of Hope

The wolf shall be the guest of the lamb
and the leopard shall lie down with the kid;
the calf and the young lion shall browse together,
with a little child to lead them.

Isaiah 11:6

My granddaughter’s smile drew me in before I realized what the little imp had done. My gloomy attitude, aching sinuses and complete disappointment with so many things in this world meant nothing to the little girl who nuzzled next to me. As Claire eyed my uncommonly troubled eyes, she looked to see if I was watching. Then, ever so carefully, she touched the tips of my fingers. I smiled as I considered her bravery in approaching me. With that, my headache eased and I invited Claire to sit closer. She immediately nestled nearer.

In and effort not to disturb my newly found comfort, I asked Grandpa to hand me one of the photo albums on our coffee table. He aptly selected the album which features Claire as a baby. After revisiting Baby Claire’s life, we chose the newest album which features Claire’s new cousin Daniel. Claire shared her observations of Daniel’s progress and her predictions regarding Daniel’s future. As I listened, I wondered why I had wasted so much of this day attending to my headache and my worry. Claire made it obvious that the world is in good hands. Come to think of it, a little child made the same observation two millenniums ago when he was born in that stable in Bethlehem. There is always hope!

Dear God, as I continue my journey to Christmas, keep me mindful of the gifts to be found in the people you have given me to love, especially the children who keep our hope alive.

©2015 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Blessed with Hope and Love

As is the case with most people, my life becomes increasingly busy with each passing day as we near Christmas. With this in mind, my husband and I began our Advent and Christmas preparations a bit early. While I contemplated this First Sunday of Advent writing, my dear husband raked up the last of this year’s leaves. After staring at the empty page before me for what seemed like hours, I decided a change of scenery might provide some inspiration. Though I intended to head outdoors for a quick walk, I stopped to admire the large piles of leaves that flanked the parkway in front of our house. Either my husband had tended to those leaves extremely quickly or I did actually sit at my computer for far longer than one unproductive hour. With that, I walked around the house to compliment Mike on his productivity.

Seconds later, I found the poor man in the midst of evergreen branches which were strewn about our patio. Mike had turned his attention to the barren planters which once boasted the colorful blossoms which we enjoyed this past summer. Mike had already filled two planters with a variety of those branches, colorful red twigs and a few faux poinsettia blossoms and berries. His creations looked at least as attractive as the decorations that have appeared in stores everywhere for the past several weeks. When he realized I was there, Mike told me, “I decided to take advantage of the warm weather and get these pots done.” This declaration enticed me to get something done as well.

I scrapped my plans to walk and set out to find Christmas Cards. Mike had seen a nice selection at Tuesday Morning a few weeks earlier and he advised me to start there. With a bit of unspoken skepticism, I agreed. When I arrived at the store, I found the card display precisely where Mike said it would be. There were numerous boxes to choose from, but not enough of any one design to meet my needs. We normally select one card to send to everyone on our list. Still, I perused box after box. In the process, I found five cards which I really liked. Each one featured lovely artwork and an inspiring greeting. Though these messages focused on varied aspects of Christmas, each one expressed the true meaning of this special day in its own way. As I selected the boxes I needed, I laughed at my less-than-hopeful attitude at the onset of this quest. I had left home with the intention of finding the perfect card with the perfect message at the perfect price. I did not expect to find it at this store. In the end, I had found five perfect cards with five perfect messages at a far better price than I expected. In addition, I found inspiration for this writing.

Every year, I begin Advent with the resolve to keep the true meaning of Christmas in my mind and in my heart. Every year, I struggle to do this with the rest of God’s people. How difficult it is to reconcile the trials and tribulations of this life with the absolute miracle which occurred in Bethlehem so long ago! When I returned to the scriptures, they reminded me that our struggle is nothing new. Though their settings seem somewhat remote to us, our biblical counterparts suffered in many of the ways we suffer today. These troubles might be economic, health-related or legal. They might be matters of the heart, matters of faith or matters of need. Regardless of the source, unrest played merciless havoc with our ancestors in the faith just as it plays havoc with us today. In the earliest times, God responded through the prophets. In Bethlehem, God responded with Jesus—the same Jesus who continues to respond to each one of us today.

Mike’s unexpected handiwork with our planters inspired me to set out on my Christmas Card search. My encounter with those inspiring images and verses rekindled the hope which had been but a flicker an hour earlier. I am quite certain that, throughout Advent, you and I will encounter the unexpected in many forms. However these adventures unfold, the final outcomes depend upon us. When we remain open to God who responded to this world’s troubles by sending Jesus, we remain open to God’s most precious gifts. Our hope in the things to come and our certainty regarding God’s love for us arm us to deal with the unexpected in all of its forms. When we do so, we inspire those we meet along the way to do the same. This is our Advent journey: To share our hope and to spread God’s love as only we can.

©2015 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Prepare The Way…

On that day,
A shoot shall sprout from the stump of Jesse…

Isaiah 11:1

It was two years ago that I had my shoulder repaired. Though I survived this ordeal, the month of November, especially Thanksgiving Day, has unexpectedly elicited related memories. I recall timing the surgery so Thanksgiving and Christmas preparations would distract me from the painful recovery which I was warned would come. As it happened, these distractions weren’t as helpful as I’d hoped. Still, the pain wasn’t as horrific as expected either. I eventually learned to put my incapacitation to good use. As a result, I embraced Advent 2013 with great fervor.

You know, Advent 2015 begins tomorrow. Once again, I am given four weeks to engage in joyful anticipation of Christmas. Most years, except for 2013, it is extremely difficult for me to find the time to truly and joyfully anticipate this feast. There is just so much to do. As I look ahead to the next twenty-seven days, I’ve decided to recapture the simplified life-style which was forced upon me after my surgery. This year, I’m going to prioritize, organize and enjoy the wait for Christmas.

Will you join me in seeking a bit of simplification as well? Though none of us can shirk all of our responsibilities, we can all probably let a few things fall to the wayside. Trust me. Once you start, this will become easier than you think!

Loving God, heaven touched the earth the day Jesus was born. This year, help us to celebrate this miracle joyfully.

©2015 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Make It A Good Friday

Stand erect and raise your heads
because your redemption is at hand.

Luke 21:28

Though I still savor the turkey, Thanksgiving Day is fading into a distant memory. I know. It was only yesterday. Still, shoppers headed out before the leftovers were put away last night. Others left their beds in the wee hours this morning to take advantage of sales. Many who are working today will go directly to the mall afterward with the hope that their wish list items are still available. Overnight, the Christmas Shopping Season made its stealth entrance quite effectively.

If you haven’t given much thought to shopping yet, don’t worry. Though today’s sales will make a dent in store inventories, those empty shelves will be filled again soon enough. The lagging economy beckons, and retailers everywhere will seek your contribution to the cause through 11:59 on Christmas Eve. In the mean time, I invite you to join me in letting go of the holiday frenzy.

I’ve decided to approach my shopping needs in small increments. My husband and I will decorate in small increments as well. We enjoy the Christmas Season best of all and we hope to attend to every minute of it. In the process, we will avoid the weariness which comes with trying to do too much in too little time. I invite you to join me in finding ways to remove just a bit of the hustle and bustle of the season from your life. In the end, you will find yourself enjoying Christmas more than ever before,

Caring God, though the Christmas Season is meant to celebrate Jesus’ birth, our desire to please those we love sometimes gets in the way of our good intentions. Give us patience with one another, endurance to do the things we must and the wisdom to let things go that really won’t matter in the end. And, please, be with us through it all.

©2015 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Thanksgiving

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

From Mark 4:35-41

This Thanksgiving Day, I have so much for which to be grateful. As I list my precious family members to give thanks for each one, my grandson Daniel and his daddy give me reason to pause. Daniel’s long journey from birth to homecoming was quite an adventure. Though his dad was full-term at birth, he gave us quite a scare as well…

Because I had experienced contractions for days, we expected a quick delivery. Still, we waited several hours for progress. Suddenly, my nurse tossed a gown at my husband and rushed me into the delivery room. The monitors had detected fetal distress. When he made his appearance shortly thereafter, Timothy was white as a ghost. The nurse whisked our baby away without allowing us to hold him. After some whispering among the medical team, our doctor asked us not to worry. Then he added that he was calling in a specialist. My husband and I prayed. We had waited a very long time for this child.

The next morning, the doctor shared that our baby might be suffering from a grave illness which would cause serious disabilities before taking him by age three. This news devastated us and our prayers continued. Later that day, Sister Charles, who managed the hospital lab, hurried into our room. She said, “I’ve looked at Timothy. Trust me. He’ll be just fine.” Much to our relief, it was Sister Charles’ prognosis which proved to be accurate.

Dear God, your heard as I wept for Tim and again for Little Danny. I have wept for all of my family at one time or another. I love them all almost as much as you do. Thank you for caring for each one of them. Thank you for everything!

©2015 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

God’s Home

Come to me, all you who labor and are burdened,
and I will give you rest.

Matthew 11:28

While growing up, I lived around the corner and down the block from our parish church. This close proximity allowed me the opportunity to drop in whenever I felt the need. I took the term “God’s House” seriously and literally. I knew in my heart that when I went into church I was in the company of the Almighty. I also knew that I was always welcomed there. I felt quite assured of this because high above the sanctuary in the domed ceiling the words of Matthew 11:28 were written in gold. What more assurance did I need?

As I grew older, my parents and teachers taught me that God also abides within each one of us. Regardless of how pressing an issue might be, I could talk to God wherever I was, not only in church. Though I still popped into church for impromptu visits, I learned to pray in earnest wherever I was when circumstances merited this. I’m happy to share that it has become a lifelong habit to converse with God in good times and in bad wherever I am and whenever I’m not talking to someone else. I’m also happy to share that I still enjoy those special moments in God’s House.

Loving God, thank you for inviting me into your consoling arms wherever I happen to be.

©2015 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved