Embrace The Journey and Ride On!

It was early Friday morning when I checked email before tending to this writing. I didn’t know at the time that a light-hearted message from a childhood friend would guide my efforts. Since we’re both products of the West Side of Chicago, Trino sent a link to a recent tidbit regarding electric scooter rentals now available in some areas of the city. He asked if I’d ever dare to ride one, but quickly added that he assumed he already knew my response. How I surprised my dear friend! After acknowledging that I’d heard about the city’s scooter experiment, I added that I have indeed ridden one!  Though it wasn’t the model available in our home town, it was both electric and fast. Our eldest grandchild has had an adult-scale e-scooter for some time. Last summer, after watching our granddaughter, our sons and my dear husband ride it, something urged me to do the same. Happily, I responded to that nudge without incident and with great pleasure. I resolved that I’d ride that scooter again at every opportunity.

After recounting this accomplishment in my reply to Trino, my thoughts turned to similar adventures from years past. It was 1968. A co-worker at the grocery store where I worked owned a motorcycle and offered to give me a ride. This very responsible twenty-year-old insisted that I exchange my work uniform for jeans and a jacket and that I wear a helmet.  After complying, he biked me through our Austin area neighborhood for 20 minutes. What an awesome experience! Decades later, probably 1992, my husband’s nephew used a motor scooter to get around his local habitat. During a visit, Jimmy offered me the opportunity to ride it. With a bit of hesitation, I climbed on. For 10 glorious minutes, I rode. My last adventure in this vein occurred a decade ago. Mike’s cousin Connie is married to a former state trooper. Connie and Lou took lots of road trips on Lou’s motorcycle after he retired. Eventually, Lou traded in his two-wheeler for a three-wheeler. Though a three-wheeler may sound a bit tame, I assure you that the extra wheel only adds to the fun! When they were in for a visit, Lou offered me a ride. Once again, I happily donned a helmet and climbed on behind him.  Once again, I enjoyed the ride of my life! I guess there’s something special to be said about riding out in the open air. There’s something special to be said regarding every adventure with which God blesses us…

Today, four good men I know are embracing new adventures. Though they won’t travel on motorized scooters or cycles, they will be energized by their amazing journeys. After all, God’s love for them, their faith in God’s wisdom and the love and support of those nearby will urge each one on. On July 1, my pastor Father Greg will hand over the keys to our parish to Father Chris, our new pastor. I’m not worrying too much about the new guy trying to navigate the parish. Father Greg will stay for two additional weeks. He’ll see to it that Father Chris wears his helmet (or the appropriate jogging shoes) as he makes his way among us. At the same time, Father Greg will fine tune his own vehicle. He’ll trade in his censor for a book bag and ease from his role as pastor to that of student. Perhaps he’ll inspire his Loyola classmates by riding one of those motorized scooters around the university! I’m certain he’ll inspire his teachers with his wisdom and depth. As for Father Chris, he’s far more athletic than I’ll ever be. Whether he’s riding a scooter, a motor bike, a motorcycle or jogging through the parish as Father Greg did, he’ll embrace his new adventure with a generous heart and great gifts. If the homily he offered at his previous parish (when my husband and I sneaked in for Mass there) is any indication, Father Chris is an expert regarding God’s mercy and love. No. I’m not worrying about the new guy because it is God who welcomes this kind and humble priest to guide our parish throughout the journey ahead.  

Though I’m uncertain of their affinities to motorized cycles of any sort, I do know that our associate pastor Father Dave and our new associate pastor Father Joe also embrace the adventures ahead. Father Dave has shared his amazing artwork, his tech skills and his gentle heart with us. Now, he’ll take these gifts on the road where he’ll enrich the new friends he meets along the way. Father Joe will do the same for us here. While his experience as pastor and his openness to God’s plans for him will sustain him, Father Joe’s kind and generous spirit will sustain those he meets here.

I admit that my scooter and cycle-riding experiences seem insignificant in the grand scheme of things. Still, I’ve come to realize that every journey we undertake is of significance to someone. The uncharted roadways ahead are among God’s greatest gifts to us. Jesus acknowledged often that, in spite of our current locations or our vehicles of choice, we accomplish the amazing when we respond to the opportunities at hand. In Luke’s gospel (9:51-62), Jesus appeared harsh when he rebuked those who delayed embracing his call. Apparently, they had things to do beforehand. Jesus scolded them because they didn’t realize what they were missing by not coming forward to take that first step. Though these four priests have truly embraced God’s call, I’m fairly certain that they’ve committed to their journeys with a bit of uncertainty as well. So it is that I ask my parish family -And all of you!- to join me in praying for each one. To Fathers Greg and Dave to whom we’ll soon bid farewell, we promise our prayers for your safe journeys and for happiness on the road ahead! To Fathers Chris and Joe who join us at St. Paul’s, we say, “Welcome and Godspeed! We’ll be here for you every step of the way.”

©2019 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

God, Our Caretaker

Thus God prepared the land:
drenching its furrows, breaking up its clods,
Softening it with showers,
blessing its yield.

Psalm 65:11

The other morning, I looked at our calendar to find that neither my husband nor I had anything scheduled for the day. Shocked, I quickly called to him and asked, “Do you have anything going today?” He replied, “Miraculously, not a thing!” Having said that, he appeared in his most threadbare shorts and t-shirt. Before I could ask what he was up to, he recited a laundry list of outdoor chores which he planned to accomplish by noon. I laughed as he headed out the back door to the yard.

After taking care of a thing or two myself, I checked on my husband. He had weeded around all of our perennials and checked all of the planters and pots. He had also fertilized every flower he’d planted around the yard. When I found him, he was assessing our bird house to be certain that is was still standing firm in the rain-soaked soil. When I asked why he was devoting this uncommon free-day to so much manual labor, Mike replied, “Are you kidding? I love doing this stuff!”

As I headed back to my own chores, I looked upward and smiled. “You love doing this stuff, too. Taking care of us and watching us flourish makes your day. Nice! Thank you, Dear God!”

Loving God, you never take a free day from caring for us. Whether our troubles are great or small, you tend to them and to us with great love. Thank you!

©2019 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

God’s Good Company!

Sing to God a new song
for God has done wondrous deeds.

Psalm 98:1

Friends of our recently traveled to The Amalfi Coast for a much anticipated vacation. My hope on the day they boarded their plane was a safe and enjoyable journey. Fortunately, they are joyful fliers who fully look forward to the adventure at hand. As for me…

I’ve thoroughly enjoyed every trip my husband and have taken once we’ve arrived at our destinations. My issue has been getting there. I have no fear of flying. However, I am an unofficial claustrophobic. Spending hours cooped up in an airplane sends chills up and down my spine. This phenomenon begins days before a flight and continues until I walk off that plane at my final destination.

Fortunately, after our first few trips, things changed. I asked God to be a bit more tangibly present as I prepared. Apparently, my prayer was answered because I began packing with anticipation rather than worry. I woke early on the days of our departures looking forward to these trip. Every time, we breezed through security and happily nestled into our seats on the plane. Most often, the thoughtful passengers seated in front of me didn’t push their seats back into “my space” which added to my peace. (I prayed a long time for each one with a grateful heart!) When we arrived at each destination, I prayed again to thank God who had traveled with me through everything.

Though my travel angst was a minimal problem in the grand scheme of things, it wasn’t to minimal for God to help me through it. Nothing is too minimal -or too great- for God!

Loving God, thank you for being with us in our troubles, even when they are as inconsequential as mine. Knowing you are with me changes everything!

©2019 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Z… Zenith!

God’s holy mountain, the fairest of heights,
is the joy of all the earth.

Psalm 48:3ab

Z is for Zenith. Zenith… the high point, the point directly overhead, the peak, the pinnacle, the summit. As the psalmist wrote, the fairest of heights. When good things happen to us, we say that our spirits are high or that we’re uplifted. Though I don’t think there actually is a direction toward heaven, I turn my eyes upward to pray. I reference my loved ones “up there” and I visualize God and the heavenly cohort looking down from above upon us.

God’s “above-ness” doesn’t imply in any way that God is unwilling to dirty those Divine Hands with the troubles of this world. Oddly, God’s position “above” never stops me from pulling God down into the worst of messes. More importantly, this position “above” never stops God from responding. Our God who loves us from the fairest of heights also loves us from the deepest of trenches and I am most grateful!

Today, I thank you for making your way through this alphabet of reflections with me. Though I fretted a bit about actually taking us from A to Z, God’s inspiration has been abundant. The good people around me, the wonders of creation and the scriptures never ceased to inspire as well. Thank you!

I’m also happy to share that this alphabetical diversion did give me the time to work on my book!

Loving God, thank you for your presence throughout this ABC side-trip. Thank you, too, for using this space to spread the good news of just how much you care for each one of us!

©2019 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Y… Yearning!

My soul yearns and pines for the Lord.
My heart and my soul cry out for God.

Psalm 84:3

Y is for Yearning. Sometimes, only God will do.

After retiring from his first career as a school principal, my husband worked as a hospice chaplain. This work touched him deeply. Though we consider ourselves to be “God-aware” people, this experience brought new depth in this regard to both of us. Mike observed often that, when a patient seemed to have lost every means of communication, he or she somehow managed to acknowledge prayer. Whether by squeezing a hand, blinking an eye, smiling ever so slightly or whispering an “amen”, even those closest to death became present when it was time to pray. Some patients rapt in comas seemed to breathe more calmly when those around them prayed. When all else was said and done, God remained present to each one.

Though most of us are not in need of hospice care at the moment, we are all in need of God. When no one else comprehends our suffering, it is God who experiences every detail of it with us. When we cannot mouth a single word, much less breathe without shedding more tears, God understands our situations completely. God is with us -ALWAYS!

In times of suffering, when I’m certain that no one understands my heartbreak, I feel completely alone for only a millisecond. If I pay attention, I realize within that instant that God is with me. Yes, sometimes, only God will do. Always, God will do!

Merciful and loving God, thank you for satisfying my yearning with your presence.

©2019 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

X… X-Ray!

My heart quakes within me;
terror has fallen upon me.

From Psalm 55:5

X is for X-ray, X-ray Vision to be precise! Sometimes, we need x-ray vision to get to the bottom of things.

I’ll never forget this particular meeting of a college theology class. Though we dealt more with dogma than with faith experiences, a distraught classmate couldn’t help seeking guidance from our “God-centered” gathering. When the professor allowed this student to elaborate, he observed that his dilemma resembled what John of the Cross termed a dark night of the soul. As the discussion continued, the entire class became involved. We agreed that our classmate was indeed likely immersed in the closest thing to a dark night of the soul that any of us had ever seen. We and our professor also agreed that our support at the moment was far more important than attending to the course syllabus that day.

You know, there are many suffering souls nearby. Unfortunately, the rest of us remain unaware because we don’t have the time or the wherewithal to take a closer look. We can’t peek into the hearts of strangers who wait in line with us at the market or the hearts of our own family members or friends. Because we can’t x-ray one another’s souls, we miss a lot. This is where my professor’s example comes into play. First, we need to be approachable. Replacing a cranky scowl with a smile goes a long way. Second, we need to set aside our own agendas. Problems don’t arise in accordance with anyone’s syllabus. They just happen. Finally, we need to listen. When we get to this point, we leave the response to God. God will give us the words to help. After all, God sees what lies deep within us all more clearly than x-ray vision ever will.

Compassionate God, help us to see one another and to respond to one another with your loving eyes.

©2019 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved