T… Thanksgiving, Today and Every Day

Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good,
for his mercy endures forever.

Psalm 136:1

T is for Thanksgiving. I’ve probably made it more clear than necessary that life isn’t always perfect. Still, I can’t help feeling grateful. I have much to be thankful for -far more than I ever expected or dared to hope for. My family tops the list. I never intended to marry and never dreamed that I’d be a mom. When I became a grandmother, my life took a turn which I never imagined possible. My other precious blessings aren’t tangible -like love, joy, compassion and understanding, to name a few, but they’re very real to me just the same. Yes, I’m a very blessed soul.

When this life presents unpleasant challenges, I face them most effectively with a grateful heart. I hope our dear Lord never tires of hearing me pray, “God, I know you’ve been very good to me, but really? I don’t mean to complain, but how can I deal with this?” It usually takes me a few minutes to calm down, to adjust my thinking and to re-word my prayer. I continue, “Thank you, God, for being with me in everything. I know that all of this will end well. In the mean time, help me to respond as you would.”

T is for Thanksgiving. Today and every day, I will do my best to face everything with a heart full of thanksgiving.

Generous God, thank you for everything!

©2017 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

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S… Service -with a Smile!

Here is my servant whom I uphold,
my chosen one with whom I am pleased…

From Isaiah 42:1

S is for Service. As a child, I was always first to raise my hand when a teacher asked for a volunteer. At home, though I disliked my chores as much as any child, I happily volunteered when my mom requested help with the non-mandatory task at hand. This propensity to be helpful remains with me. The truth is that, of all of the joy I’ve experienced, the best of it has been the result of being helpful to others.

I’ve been spouse, parent, teacher, colleague, daughter to an elderly mom, sister to a dying sibling, listener for a troubled soul and an all-purpose church volunteer. I’ve rescued a wayward can of soup which rolled out of a fellow shopper’s bag and a twenty-dollar bill which fell out of another’s wallet. I’ve even put out a burning hair fire when a wedding guest stood too close to a lighted candle. I’m sure your list of every-day and life-time acts of kindness would fill this space in short order. Whenever we respond to those God has given us to love, we are of service to them in some way.

It seems to me that doing good for others is the shortest road to true happiness. Whether or not we’re thanked for our efforts, our good deeds fill us with joy. Our great and small acts of service make all of the difference, sometimes for a second and sometimes for a lifetime.

Thank you, Good and Gracious God, for giving us loving and caring hearts like your own.

©2017 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Blessed Are We!

When things get to the point where I can’t deal with them any longer, I walk. The other day, I’d had enough of the misery around me, so I bundled up and headed out into the cold world. I didn’t expect the wintry scenery to make me feel any better. I was looking for something else -actually, someone else- to do the job. I looked beyond the school, the village hall and the homes that line my neighborhood. I peeked past earth-colored bricks, charcoal tree trunks, the white clouds and blue sky to catch a glimpse of what I needed. I squinted and strained to find God. I fully intended to insist that our dear Lord do something about the many suffering people whom I felt incapable of helping in a meaningful way.

Before checking to see if I had God’s attention, I began to list everyone who’d asked me to pray for him or her and everyone who I thought needed Divine Intervention of some sort. As I recited that list, I couldn’t help picturing each one. Before going on to the next name, I had to add how frightened or distraught or alone the person I’d mentioned must be feeling. In the process, my frustration over my inability to fix everything and everyone on my list gave way. Rather than angrily bounding through the cold, I continued on with absolute certainty that God knows about and cares very deeply for each of these suffering souls. When I came home to begin this writing, it occurred to me that I should have read Matthew’s gospel (Matthew 5:1-12a) before my walk…

Matthew tells us that Jesus took the suffering of his contemporaries to heart. When Jesus climbed the mountainside to speak, he saw each face in the crowd before him. Anxious eyes revealed every sort of suffering –poverty of body and spirit; illness and loss; insecurity and loneliness; hunger and thirst; persecution, unrest and injustice. Jesus knew he needed to do much more than to fulfill the material longings of the people. A bit of food, a warmer coat, a better home and an illness overcome were temporary remedies for what ailed the throngs before him. Jesus looked deeply into the tormented hearts who struggled to make sense of their lives. Jesus searched his own heart for the only answer which would make sense of everything.

Jesus looked into that suffering crowd and said, “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted. Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth. Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be satisfied Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy. Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God. Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are you when they insult you and persecute you and utter every kind of evil against you falsely because of me. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward will be great in heaven.”

When we find ourselves in the midst of serious suffering, we can be taken aback by this talk of “blessedness”. We’re tempted to look up that mountainside into Jesus’ eyes and to demand, “What are you thinking, Lord? My pain is unbearable. My wife is leaving me. I drink too much. We can’t have a baby. I’ve lost my job. Our teenager is drifting away. They’ve told me it’s cancer. I can’t stop gambling. I’m so depressed that it’s impossible to get out of bed in the morning. I’m dying. I’m alone. Lord, what are you thinking?” What a shock it is when Jesus looks deep into our eyes and repeats, “Blessed are you!”

I’ve come to realize that no one knows the pain we suffer better than God. No one knows that the things of this world can’t fix or replace what really matters to us better than God. When our lives go awry and our loved ones or we ourselves are at stake, we grapple for a lasting solution. God knows our struggle better than we do. Whether we need to put our hearts at peace, to find strength for the battles ahead, to accept a change that will be with us for the rest of our lives or to work tirelessly for a better change, God is with us. This is what being blessed is all about. Perhaps it’s time to add a few more beatitudes to Jesus’ list: Blessed are we when we face overwhelming obstacles and struggle through them… Blessed are we when we muster the last bit of life within us to embrace what lies ahead… Blessed are we when we realize the imperfections of this life and we plug along anyway. God is with us all the while. So, yes, blessed are we!

©2017 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

R… Rejoice and Be Glad!

This is the day the Lord has made;
let us be glad and rejoice in it.

Psalm 118:24

R is for Rejoice. Though I’ve selected this uplifting R word, I realize that life on this earth doesn’t always give us reason to rejoice. On occasion, the only way to deal with this reality is to accept that things are what they are and to move on. Still, when I choose to move on, I do so reluctantly. I’m not fully convinced that the situation I’ve abandoned can’t be improved at least a little.

Last week, I had a very close encounter with negative forces. Rather than adding more negativity to the mix, I decided to be a positive catalyst. Perhaps I could give all concerned a bit of hope. Though my stomach was in knots as I plugged along, my effort paid off in the end. While I didn’t change much, I did manage to help those involved to adjust their attitudes. We turned our resignation into an opportunity to rejoice that things weren’t any worse. The most important aspects of all of this were the decisions of those concerned to be positive. I “decided” not to add to the negativity and my friends “decided” to jump onto my bandwagon. Together, we infused joy into a tough situation.

We can make the choice to rejoice and be glad anytime and anywhere. Today, I’m choosing to abandon my resignation about this less-than-perfect world. Today, I’m choosing to rejoice and to be glad.

Dear God, thank you for our capacity to rejoice and our ability to choose to do so. May our efforts transform the imperfections of this world one choice at a time.

©2017 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Q… Quiet, Outside and Inside

Be still, and know that I am God…
From Psalm 46:10

Q is for Quiet. A few years ago, when I made my first attempt at meditating my way through the alphabet, I felt very good about my progress until I approached the letter Q. I wondered what I could possible come up with. When I voiced this concern to my friend, a light bulb immediately appeared over her head. “Quiet,” she almost whispered. “You know… quiet.” With that, I hugged Carol and thanked her for the inspiration. Q is for Quiet… Of course! Today, I will revisit her wisdom because I still need to work on creating and using quiet productively.

I’m a master at creating a quiet environment. When I’m home alone, the television is off and other noisy distractions are scarce. Still, this isn’t the quiet which Carol suggested. Carol nudged me toward the internal quiet where we encounter God deep within ourselves. This is the quiet that often comes in unexpected places at unexpected times. I find this inner quiet most often when I venture outdoors. When freezing temperatures keep me indoors, I look elsewhere. I’ve found this inner quiet here at home and in both a full and empty church. I’ve also found it at the mall. There is something about the faces I pass and the interactions between parents and children, spouses and groups of teens which reveal the Almighty to me. During these encounters, I don’t pray a word because these quiet revelations speak to me.

So it is that I learn to quiet my innards because it is in that quiet stillness that I come to know God.

Dear God, thank you for filling my quiet place with your loving presence.

©2017 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

P… Peace, Outside and Within Us

strong>Kindness and truth shall meet;
justice and peace shall kiss.

Psalm 85:11

P is for Peace. Of all of my heart’s desires, I long for and relish peace most of all. The truth is that during the most difficult times of my life, I’ve been at least faintly aware of a measure of peace deep within me. In spite of the troubles at hand, I’m consistently convinced at some level that circumstances will evolve for the best. While I invest my blood, sweat, tears and prayer into the given situation, peace eases its way to the surface. Eventually, I accept that I can only do what I can do and I leave the rest to God. Letting go is an extremely difficult, but liberating exercise. When I empty myself of my worry and angst, I make room for God’s peace to enter in.

Though I may have to wait for heaven to enjoy true peace, I can infuse a morsel of peace into every moment I’m given. Perhaps my efforts should include a deep breath before allowing less-than-peaceful sentiments to flow from my lips. Perhaps these efforts should include a glance upward and a glance within before I take the gloom and doom around me to heart. Perhaps I need to begin each day with a prayer that God’s peace surfaces within me before I allow anything else to erupt. Perhaps I can actually bring peace to this world after all.

Compassionate God, help us to set aside our worries and to focus upon your peaceful presence as we embrace all that lies ahead.

©2017 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved