U is for Unity

These are my mother and brothers and sisters.
Whoever lives as God asks is family to me.

From Mark 3:34-35

U is for Unity. A few week’s ago, we gathered at my nephew’s home. His sister lives in California and was home for a visit. Ralph invited us over to see her. Our family is quite large. These days, it’s difficult to gather us in one place at any one time. Still, almost thirty of us came out to visit with Cece and one another that day. What fun! My own siblings and I have grown into very different people, yet we each manage to bring our own variety of joy to these gatherings. The same is true of my nieces and nephews and my own sons. Though they all set out to form friendships and families of their own, they find their way back to their roots to reconnect with the family which gave them their start. For me, the best part of these gatherings is watching familial interactions unfold. How nice it is that we still manage to get along!

It seems to me that this should also be true of our human family. God breathed life into every one of us with the hope that we’d live these lives to the fullest. We needn’t congregate in the same worship places or in any worship place at all to express our appreciation. It seems to me that we do need to respect one another and to see one another as God’s children. We need to love one another as we love ourselves. We need to open our eyes, our minds and our hearts to better understand perspectives which sometimes differ from our own. Understanding our differences doesn’t mean that we have to embrace them. It does mean that we must learn to coexist amidst our varying points of view. I do this best when I set aside the non-essential details of these things and focus upon the most essential needs of this world.

God has breathed life into billions of unique children since time began and God loves each and every one. God’s only request is the same as that of any loving parent. God asks only that we learn to get along.

Loving God, you love each one of us. Help us to work together to transform the world we share into a fitting home for us all.

©2019 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

T is for Thanksgiving

Give thanks to the Lord, for God is good,
for God’s mercy endures forever.

Psalm 136:1

T is for Thanksgiving. I think I’ve made it clear in one way or another that life isn’t always perfect for me. As I typed that sentence, I couldn’t help wondering if God would say the same. Maybe my circumstances have been fashioned perfectly for me. As I ponder that possibility, I acknowledge that I really do have much to be thankful for, far more than I ever expected or dared to hope for. Though many of these gifts aren’t tangible, they are very real to me just the same. The love of my husband, our sons, our daughters-in-law and our grandchildren tops the list of gifts I never expected to encounter in this life. Add to this the love of some very dear friends and you see that I’m a very blessed soul.

When this life presents unpleasant challenges, I face them most effectively with a grateful heart. I admit that the tough internal bout I mentioned a few days ago would have been far less painful if I’d remembered to count my blessings earlier on. In less trying times, I have remembered to look upward. I hope God 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 adjust my thinking and my prayer. I eventually end my list of complaints with, “Thank you, God, for being with me in everything. I know that all of this will end well.”

T is for Thanksgiving. Today and every day, I will do my best to face everything with a heart full of thanksgiving no matter what!

Generous and Loving God, thank you for everything!

©2019 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

S is for Service

Here is my servant whom I uphold,
my chosen one with whom I am pleased,
upon whom I have put my spirit…

From Isaiah 42:1

S is for Service. As a child, I was always first to raise my hand when my teacher asked for a volunteer to assist her. 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 has remained with me. The truth is that, of all of the joy I’ve experienced, the best of it has been the result of being of service to others.

My service has taken many forms. I have 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 head of hair when a wedding guest stood a bit too close to a lighted candle. I’m sure your own list of every-day and life-time service would fill this space in short order. It seems to me that if we respond at all to those God has given us to love, we are of service to them in some way.

S is for service because doing for others is the shortest road to true happiness. Whether or not we are thanked for our efforts, our good deeds fill us up with an amazing sense of joy. Our great and small acts of service make all of the difference, sometimes for a second and sometimes for a lifetime.

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

©2019 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

R is for Rejoice

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

Psalm 118:24

R is for Rejoice. Before I continue, I must share that I considered using “resignation” as my R word. It had come to my attention, once again, that life on this earth is imperfect at best. It seemed, once again, that the only way to deal with this reality was to accept that some things are what they are and to move on. Unfortunately, when I choose to move on, I do so reluctantly. Somehow, I’m convinced that the situation I’ve abandoned actually could be improved for the better. This hope gives me reason to rejoice.

This other day, when one such situation presented itself, I decided that I couldn’t accept that it is what it is. Rather than adding more negativity to the mix, I decided to be a positive catalyst who might actually give all concerned a bit of hope. In the end, my effort paid off. Though I didn’t change much, I did help those concerned to adjust their attitudes regarding the mess which temporarily overwhelmed us. Turning our resignation into an opportunity to rejoice that things weren’t any worse helped. Perhaps 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 tough circumstances.

The Psalmist who offered the wonderful suggestion cited above asks us to be glad and to rejoice. This is a choice we can make anytime and anywhere. Today, I’m deciding to abandon my resignation about this less-than-perfect world. Today, I’m going to rejoice and be glad.

Dear God, thank you for giving us the capacity to rejoice and the free will to choose to do so. May our efforts transform the imperfections of this world into opportunities to reveal your goodness.

©2019 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Nothing’s Impossible!

It was during the January 2019 deep-freeze that I set aside my errands to make good use of the time indoors. Before getting a head start on my upcoming reflections, I decided to clean my desk. Most of my work-space is actually in reasonably good order. The eight-inch high heap to the left of my keyboard is the exception. It is there that I’ve stacked inspirational items of every sort. These scribbled quotes and pamphlets, a funeral booklet, newspaper clippings, a playbill, some greeting cards, and only God and I know what else, promised to inspire my future writing in some way. As a result, I kept them. All of this is held in place by the book of scripture readings which I reference when I prepare to write for you. Before tackling that little mountain of paper, I read the passages we hear today. Perhaps I’d find a bit of inspiration as I worked…

As I worked, I scanned each item to determine whether or not to keep it. I’d made my way through two-thirds of them when I found a program from the Marriott-Lincolnshire Theatre. The good deacon and I had attended a Summer 2016 performance of Man of La Mancha there. I’d kept the program because I fell in love with the story of Don Quixote, the main character of the play, while studying Spanish in high school. My teacher worked very hard to move her students from our obsession with building our Spanish vocabularies to some appreciation of Spanish culture. We’d studied the classics which included Miguel de Cervantes’ work. When Cervantes was imprisoned during the Spanish Inquisition, he defended himself from the ruthlessness of his fellow prisoners by telling the story of Don Quixote. This delusional self-professed knight vowed to bring goodness to the world at any cost. In spite of numerous misadventures, Don Quixote saw the goodness in everything and everyone he encountered. I couldn’t help smiling to myself as I realized that my fictional friend’s quest would inspire this writing.

As I straightened the rest of those papers, I hummed my favorite songs from the play, Dulcinea and The Impossible Dream. Don Quixote believed that Aldonza, a woman of the night who worked the local inn, was the beloved about whom he’d dreamt for an eternity. He not only insisted upon addressing Aldonza as “Dulcinea”, He also sang to her, “Dulcinea, Dulcinea, I see heaven when I see thee, Dulcinea. And thy name is like a prayer…”* Needless to say, the poor woman was dumbfounded because no one, including her own mother who left her to die at birth, had ever truly cared for her. The only affection she’d experienced carried a price tag. Aldonza couldn’t fathom Don Quixote’s pledge of unconditional love and his desire to take nothing in return. When Aldonza finally asked Don Quixote why he did the things he did, he replied in song with The Impossible Dream. I’ve never listened to or sung those lyrics without tears in my eyes, perhaps because they reach to the core of everything I believe to be possible and true…

“To dream the impossible dream; to fight the unbeatable foe; to bear with unbearable sorrow; to run where the brave dare not go. To right the unrightable wrong; to love pure and chaste from afar; to try when your arms are too weary; to reach the unreachable star.”* I think you get the idea. While in high school, I believed every word. I knew everything could be and would be better, if only we made it so. When I left the theater with my dear husband three years ago, I’d saved that playbill with good reason. I’d found myself simultaneously invigorated and saddened. The exuberance came in my renewed acquaintance with Don Quixote. I was inspired and ready to meet the challenge to reach for that star with him. The sadness came with the realization that I’d become “realistic” over the years. (Don Quixote would have called me cynical!) I no longer expected things to improve as I’d hoped in my youth. Today, Jesus asks me to cast aside my cynicism and to embrace his thinking just as Don Quixote had.

Luke’s gospel (Luke 6:27-38) suggests that Jesus and Don Quixote had much more in common than the people cared to acknowledge. Jesus asked those who would follow him to pursue his impossible dream. “To you who hear I say, love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you. Pray for those who mistreat you…” Jesus’ list went on and on. Those who heard this lived in poverty and oppression. If they could have chosen their consolation, it would likely have been revenge upon their enemies. The last thing the people wanted to hear was that they must be gracious toward those who had made their lives unbearable. Yet Jesus persisted. “Dream my impossible dream,” Jesus seemed to say, “and you will enjoy the riches that belong to the children of God.” When Jesus looked upon the people, he saw the potential to create God’s kingdom on earth. When Don Quixote looked upon Aldonza, he saw heaven within her. When God looks upon you and me, God sees heaven as well. In every choice we make to do what is seemingly impossible good, God sees heaven on earth!

©2019 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

*From MAN OF LA MANCHA (1972), written by Dale Wasserman; music by Mitch Leigh; lyrics by Joe Darion

Q is for Quiet

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

Q is for Quiet. I can’t take credit for this theme. It was some years ago when my friend Carol suggested that “quiet” is a beautiful thing, especially the quiet in which we encounter God. Though I struggled for a “Q word” when I first turned to the alphabet to guide these reflections, I’m not struggling today. Yes, Q is for Quiet! Thank you, Carol!

I’ve always relished the quiet around me. This may be a remnant from my crowded childhood. It was a rare moment when our six-room flat occupied by ten people was quiet. So it is that, when I’m home alone, our house is extremely quiet. The television is off. My computer speaker and cell phone are set at their lowest volume levels. I can actually hear the kids leaving the school across the street because of the quiet here. Still, my masterful ability to create this quiet environment doesn’t always result in the quiet which Carol suggested.

God’s quiet comes in unexpected places and at unexpected times. I find this inner quiet here at home and I find it when I venture outdoors. Because the current near-zero temperatures keep me inside much of the time, I sometimes look for God’s quiet at the mall. There is something in the faces I pass along the way and in the interactions between parents and children, spouses and groups of teens which reveal the Almighty to me. Though I don’t pray a word in the midst of these encounters, God speaks to me then and there every time.

Yes, I must be still enough to pay attention in the quiet and in the clamor of this life. For, in everything and everyone around me, God infuses that quiet presence where I come to experience God best of all.

Dear God, thank you for filling every space and moment with your loving presence. Nudge me to notice more often.

©2019 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved