R… 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 is 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 other day, when one such situation presented itself, I decided that I could not 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.

©2020 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Q… Quiet

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

Q is for Quiet. I cannot take credit for this word. When I first tackled this alphabet some years ago, a friend from church stopped to tell me that she is enjoying my take on the ABCs. I told her that I’d hoped this approach would help me to focus for at least twenty-six days of writing. I added that I didn’t know what I was thinking when I undertook this endeavor. “Some letters are tough,” I moaned. “What am I going to write for O and Q?” Before she could speak, I added, “I’ve been thinking about “opus” for O. Maybe I can do something with that. But Q?” With that, I saw the bulb light up 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! It worked back then and I’m going with it again today!

As I write, I can’t help laughing at myself because I relish the quiet around me. Why didn’t I think of that? When I’m home alone, the television set is off and other noisy distractions are scarce. I’m a master at creating a quiet environment. Nonetheless, this isn’t the quiet which Carol suggested. Carol nudged me to consider that internal quiet where we encounter God. This is the quiet that often comes in unexpected places at unexpected times. I find this inner quiet most often when I venture outdoors. Because the near-zero temperatures keep me inside much of the time, I’ve had to look elsewhere. Though 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 was something about the faces I passed and the interactions between parents and children, spouses and groups of teens which revealed the Almighty to me. I didn’t pray a word as those quiet revelations spoke all that needed to be said.

Yes, I must be still, for it is in the quiet stillness that I come to know God.

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

©2020 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

God’s Unique Handiwork

I admit that today I’m writing quickly and offering prayers of thanksgiving all the while. The good deacon and I are returning to Israel for a final visit. While I’m absolutely thrilled about this, completing everything on our to-do lists beforehand has been challenging. When I finally felt that I had things under control, Mike reminded me that we needed to head north to check on our little cabin in the woods before boarding that plane. Fortunately, this bit of caretaking could be accomplished in a single day. Three days later, we set out just after the morning rush-hour morphed into manageable traffic. Mike chose the new scenic route we discovered during a recent stormy drive home. Though I rarely read in the car, I turned to this week’s scripture passages to get a head start on this writing. I needed inspiration and I hoped that it would come in the scenery I’d enjoy along the way. Though I read and reread the scriptures, I didn’t receive that nudge from above which elicits an audible “aha” and an idea I can’t ignore…

As it happened, we made excellent time until we saw what seemed to be a huge cloud of fog looming over the road ahead. Before we could comment on that eerie vision, we realized that the fog was actually a mass of tiny snowflakes which grew larger with every passing second. While Mike lamented the possibility of driving that last hour in a blizzard, I whispered a prayer of gratitude. As the poor man carefully drove on, the beautiful flakes dancing around the car captivated me. “Thank you!” I whispered again. I didn’t realize as I prayed that my plea for inspiration would soon be answered quite generously.

You see, of all of the amazing beauty which nature offers, I love snow most. As a little girl, my favorite art projects involved making snowflakes. I remember my teacher patiently demonstrating how to fold and cut scraps of white paper to fashion beautiful snow designs. She reminded us not to worry about the patterns we’d make because each of our creations was meant to be as different as real snowflakes. In the end, we covered our classroom windows with hundreds of unique bits of paper snow. Years later, a high school science teacher confirmed that every snowflake is different. During college, while I waited for Chicago el trains many a wintry day, I studied the snowflakes that rested on my blue pea coat. Their uniquely intricate artistry fascinated me.

As Mike and I drove through what evolved into a mere twenty minute diversion, I took advantage of the opportunity to study snow once again. Did you know that some snowflakes seem to fall in straight lines to the ground while others just a few inches away slant to the right or the left? Still others puff up into billowy clouds before making their descent. Some snowflakes zigzag to and fro regardless of the presence or absence of the wind. When the wind makes itself known, these seemingly hapless comings and goings continue more frenetically than ever. As I reminded myself that it was I who should move frenetically because of all I had to do, my spirit basked in the beauty of the snowfall that blanketed our car that day. As Mike navigated through that mini blizzard, the inspiration I was granted came to fruition.

It occurred to me that you and I aren’t very different from the snowflakes that brought me such peace that day. Each of us is unique in his or her own right. In spite of our opinions or those of others, our personal packaging and personalities, interests and talents are among God’s best work. Some of us travel in straight lines, while others zigzag with a bit of uncertainty or simply because they choose to do so. Still others find themselves suspended in the clouds before making their way home. Some travel only to the right or to the left. All of us adjust our courses with the wind. Is that wind actually God’s Spirit guiding and inspiring us along the way? In the end, like snowflakes, God sprinkles us where we’re meant to be to transform this earth as only we can.

In today’s Gospel, Matthew (4:12-23) tells us that Jesus was heartbroken over the death of his cousin John the Baptist. Still, Jesus followed God’s Spirit and John’s work by beginning his own work among us. Convinced of our importance to one another, Jesus began his ministry by calling others to his side. Peter and Andrew, James and John couldn’t imagine where that journey might take them, yet they willingly became the first of the community who would follow Jesus. Like the snowflakes which tossed and turned in the wind outside of our car, the disciples’ lives turned topsy-turvy during the three years that followed. All the while, God’s Spirit led them as Jesus walked at their sides. In the end, Jesus and his friends transformed the world even more beautifully than the blanket of snow that surrounded us on the way to the cabin that day.

Jesus invites you and me to answer God’s call and to open ourselves up to God’ Spirit as well. Though our journeys will likely not be as adventurous as those of the first disciples, our impact upon this world can be equally dramatic. Whether we veer to the left or the right, zigzag or land in a cloud, when we move with God’s Spirit, we accomplish what we are called to do and we end precisely where we are meant to be.

©2020 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

P… Peace

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 think 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 feel convinced at some level that circumstances will evolve for the best. While I may make my own ample contribution of blood, sweat, tears and prayer in the process, 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 the psalmist’s peaceful image which I’ve cited above, I can infuse some level of peace into the moments I’m given here. Perhaps my New Year’s efforts to improve 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 bring a glimpse of the psalmist’s image to this world after all…

Compassionate God, you generously gift us with your peace. Help us to set aside our worries and to focus upon your peaceful presence as we embrace all that lies ahead.

©2020 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

O… Original

For you shall eat the fruit of your handiwork;
blessed shall you be and favored.

Psalm 128:2

O is for Original. I had difficulty settling on today’s word. I was torn between “original” and “opus” because both words describe an extremely important aspect of our existence. You see, each of us is an original. Even my cousins who are identical twins are very different people. Still, I cannot dismiss the word “opus” because each of our lives is exactly that. You and I are unique and important works which God has contributed to our human family. Our part in all of this is to contribute our own unique and important work to the mix. Whether we compose or construct or cause things to happen, our opus is vital to the rest of humankind. Whether this work is a lifelong process, a singular effort at a particular moment in time or a combination of the two, our original opus will make an impact upon others as no one else’s work can.

My first reaction to all of this is to feel the weight of the world upon me. Then, I consider the great and small works of those I’ve met along the way. I realize that the grandeur or smallness of their actions means little to me. It is their presence and their delivery which changed everything. Each person’s original opus has impacted me in some way. The same is true of my own work. It’s up to me to make my contribution to this world. I must seize the opportunities before me and make the most of them as only I can. The same is true for you and for all of us!

Loving God, be with us as we bring our unique talents to fruition. Inspire our efforts to contribute our own original opus to impact this world as only we can.

©2020 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

N… Name

At daybreak, he called his disciples and selected twelve of them
to be his apostles: Simon, to whom he gave the name Peter…

Luke 6:13-16

N is for Name. Some years ago, his name caused our younger son some serious heartache. One evening at dinner, when he could no longer contain his misery, Tim tearfully demanded, “Why does everyone in this family’s name start with an ‘M’ except for mine?” I’d never given Tim’s dilemma a thought, so I immediately and silently begged for guidance before I responded: “Tim, Dad’s name was Mike and my name was Mary when we met. We didn’t choose to have ‘M’ names. When Mike was born, Dad wanted to continue the family name, so we named him Michael. Yours is the only name that we really thought about. I love the name ‘Timothy’ and I love you. It was the perfect name for you.” This explanation was true. It was also enough to allow Tim to finish his dinner with a smile.

I believe that God gives us parents some latitude in naming our children. This is quite a gift since God knows the value of our names. God renamed Abram when God sent him off. This Abraham would father the Jewish people. Jesus gave Simon a new name. Simon Peter became the rock upon whom Jesus built his church. Later, when Saul vengefully persecuted the followers of Jesus, Jesus stepped in and renamed him. Paul became one of the greatest teachers of Christian living.

Though your name and mine were likely bestowed with a bit less fanfare than those of our biblical predecessors, God uses them with the same expectation. In every opportunity which comes our way, God calls our names with great love and with great hope in our responses.

Speak, Loving God, for we will listen as you call our names.

©2020 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved