There’s Always Room

“For my house shall be called
a house of prayer for all people.”

From Isaiah 56:7

Finally, I feel prepared for Christmas. Everything here at home is ready and I can hardly wait to celebrate with my family. Everything at our parish church is ready, too. Since our parish was founded, my husband, our friend Terry and a crew of dedicated volunteers have decorated our worship space for Christmas. Before we had a church building, they transformed the school gym we rented into a beautiful and prayerful space. Since our church building was completed, they’ve done the same to inspire all who come with Christmas joy.

As always, we expect standing-room-only crowds. Like all churches, our numbers include “Christmas and Easter Birds” whose only appearances occur on these two holy days. This is fine with us. Like family, we know they are coming and we make every effort to seat them as comfortably as possible. All concerned work extremely hard to prepare our beautifully adorned church, amazing music and engaging liturgy. Everyone from our youngest parish children to our devoted seniors is involved. Our hope is that all who join us feel welcome. After all, our church is God’s house! And, after all, it’s Christmas! What better day is there to welcome everyone home?

Loving God, you open your house to all who come to your door. While some of us feel free to knock often, there are others who don’t. Please inspire all of your children to realize that they are welcome to your home any time and always.

©2019 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Inspired By Mary of Nazareth

What does one do when she intends to dance her way through Advent, but stubs her toe within the first few steps? What does one do when he receives an unexpected diagnosis just a week into this four week journey? What does one do when he attempts to bring a bit of Merry Christmas to every day, but finds his good intentions rerouted by the loss of a loved one? What does one do when she tries her hardest to bring joy to the world, but finds herself unable to move beyond the unrest deep within her own heart? Since the beginning, I’ve urged you to join me in spreading glad tidings and dancing through Advent to Christmas Day. Still, in spite of our best efforts, many of you have discovered with me that this is sometimes more difficult than it seems…

The bumps in the road I’ve encountered this Advent too often threatened to derail my efforts. Rather than giving up on my good intentions, I decided to find encouragement in another Mary, the one who prepared for the first Christmas. When I was a child, I imagined this Mary filled with joy and unable to contain her love for the child she carried within her. I pictured Mary as she appears on many of our Christmas cards. So much at peace, Mary needed only to bow her head in prayer as she awaited Jesus’ birth. She knew God would take care of everything else. My young heart was incapable of comprehending Mary’s actual predicament. As I grew older, I realized that things weren’t quite as easy for Mary as my childhood musing suggested. When I traveled to the Holy Land a few years ago, a visit to Nazareth deepened my thoughts on the matter.

Mary of Nazareth was a young teen when she embraced this out-of-wedlock pregnancy. Her parents had raised Mary to be chaste and faithful to The Law. I can only imagine how they dealt with this news! Mary was betrothed to Joseph who was a good and just man. How did she explain this turn of events to him? Mary must have realized that the politics of her day made life difficult for the Jewish people. Did talk of this child add to their suffering? Did Mary consider the threat to her own safety? A woman caught in adultery drew the rage of the righteous which usually ended with her being stoned to death. As I walked through Nazareth three years ago, busy Israelis passed me from every direction. Some seemed immersed in the concerns of their day. Others laughed and chatted as they entered shops and restaurants. Still others, who’d covered themselves with broad hats and dark clothing, peered impatiently at less devout passersby. I wondered if they would have responded to Mary’s pregnancy with stones. Though the scriptures provide few details, it seems that Mary responded bravely to it all.

From the onset, Mary trusted in God’s faithfulness. As I walked the streets of Nazareth, I longed for the peace which urged Mary on. As I breathed in the air around me, I prayed that I would also breathe in Mary’s conviction that God is with me and with us all through everything we endure. For Mary of Nazareth, sadness and uncertainty never extinguished the spark of peace which was a constant within her heart. Though the complexities of this life grew with every step Jesus walked toward manhood, Mary trusted and carried on. As I ambled along the streets which were so familiar to Mary and Jesus, I admitted to myself that I haven’t been as adept as they were in dealing with the complexities of this life. Still, as Mary believed and as Jesus insisted, God remains with me.

So it is that I invite you to embrace the three days which remain until Christmas with renewed resolve. Though our eyes droop over perpetual to-do lists, look with me through Mary’s eyes toward Christmas Joy. Though our feet ache a bit from too many stumbles and too much running, let’s dance our way to join Mary beside Jesus’ manger. Though we’ve run out of shopping time, you and I know that we’ll never run out of blessings. Regardless of our successful and failed Christmas preparations, Mary’s peace and our own will abound on Christmas Day. Just as was the case for Mary that first Christmas Day, joy will prevail in the precious people we have been given to love. Most importantly, God’s love for you and me will be wrapped and unwrapped over and over again on Christmas Day and always. Merry Christmas!

©2019 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

We’re Always Learning!

“What will this child be?
Was not the hand of the Lord upon him?”

Luke 1:66

When I arrived home after running errands, I paused in the driveway to take in our Christmas decorations. Though we’ll never win a contest for most lights used, my husband and I do our best to acknowledge the season with our efforts. Six years ago, Mike stopped climbing onto the roof above the garage to string lights on our second floor eaves. We both agreed that it is more important for him to make in to Christmas Day unscathed. This year, a young painter who spends his days on roofs offered to assist us. Today, I admired the lights he’s strung across the top of our house.

As I drove into the garage, I shuddered as I recalled the year I slipped on a patch of snow and received twelve staples in my head as a result. No ladder involved! I admit that this fall caused me to feel uncharacteristically vulnerable. At the time, I wondered if I’d reached the age when this type of thing might occur more frequently. That possibility unnerved me as I plan to be a capable and independent Mom and Grandma for many more years.

As I retrieved my packages from the car, I did what I always do when I’m concerned. I turned my eyes upward, not to share my worry, but to express my gratitude. I thanked God that nothing particularly threatening has happened in recent history. I thanked God for our young friend who gifted us with lights above. In the mean time, Mike and I have stayed clear of the roof and I’ve watched more carefully for ice patches and other obstacles. Perhaps that slip prevented far worse because I did learn to be more careful that day.

Dear God, thank you for giving us the wisdom to learn something new and helpful every day! Please get us all to Christmas safely.

©2019 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Be An Inspiration!

I will leave as a remnant in your midst
a people humble and lowly,
Who shall take refuge in my name.

From Zephaniah 3:12

The people and events around me have affected me quite tangibly all of my life. Though external forces never dictate my responses, they do provide the opportunity for me to react. This is the reason I enjoy walking outdoors so much. It seems that every aspect of Creation has something to say to me when I take the time to listen. When I walk indoors, those I pass unwittingly speak to me as well. Their smallest gesture, smile or grimace gives me something to think about. I’m so grateful for the inspiration I find in these interactions that I don’t leave them to chance. Every morning, I start my day with a passage from a favorite devotional. The featured writers who share themselves so generously fuel me for the day ahead regardless of their topics. When I cannot make the time to walk, these writers energize me as I start my day.

As you know, I express gratitude for the inspiration I find around me in my own writing. Some time ago, a dear friend encouraged me to get my writing “out there.” She insisted that my words fueled her spirit and that I could do the same for many others. Though I questioned my dear friend’s judgment, I listened. Now, I enjoy the inspiration in my life twice, once when it surfaces and once again when I share it with you.

Thank you, God, for the many awesome people who inspire me with their goodness and for the wonder of Creation which does the same. As we prepare for Christmas together, help each of us to use our unique gifts to inspire those you have given us to love.

©2019 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

We Will Manage, Too!

On you I depend from birth;
from my mother’s womb you are my strength.

Psalm 71:6ab

When heavy winds caused our lights to flicker for a second or two, I panicked. I had so much to do. I found myself trying to shop, wrap, clean, bake and write within carefully planned windows of time. I’d convinced myself that any interruption to my already impossible schedule would be catastrophic at best. When the lights flickered a second time for several more seconds, I did as I always do. I looked up from my keyboard and begged, “Please, Lord, not now.”

Rather than returning to the task at hand, I walked downstairs to assess the wind for myself. I looked out to the backyard first. Everything remained in its place. I looked east toward our screened porch where the Christmas Tree and the figures of Jesus, Mary and Joseph also held their ground. By the time I peeked out the living room windows, the wind had morphed into a barely detectable breeze. Reassured, I took a moment to enjoy our indoor Christmas Tree and the tiny village beneath it. After perusing the town, I focused on the crèche where Mary and Joseph gaze lovingly upon Jesus. I couldn’t help myself as I asked them, “On what kind of night was your little guy born? Did you have any light at all in your makeshift delivery room? How did you keep yourselves warm?”

As I walked upstairs, it occurred to me that Mary and Joseph managed in spite of their dire circumstances. Whatever the wind decided to do the rest of the day, I would manage, too.

Loving God, thank you for giving us the stamina and creativity to manage our circumstances. You are all the light we need today and always.

©2019 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Someone Needs A Blanket

When the poor one called out, God heard,
and from all his distress God saved him.

Psalm 34:7

Every year, my husband begins our Christmas Tree decorating by trimming its trunk and securing it in its stand. For a day or two afterward, I string the lights and hang ornaments. While I work, my husband contemplates the tree’s lowest branches and the area beneath the tree. With great care, Mike plans the village which will fill that space. I offer meager assistance by unpacking numerous little houses, tiny trees and our crèche. I admit that I delay a bit as I unpack the stable and figures which will be the focal point of our little town of Bethlehem. Though I love the little structures which resemble the buildings of Jesus’ day, I pour over the tiny figures far longer.

I fully expect these tiny figures to answer when I ask what they were feeling back then. Though I can imagine what Mary and Joseph might say, I puzzle over the baby. “How aware where you that day? Were you planning out your life with that first cry in the night or where you simply protesting the cold? ‘Where’s my blanket?’ you might have wailed.” In the midst of my musing, the baby who rests in that tiny manger seems to ask that I leave him to his rest. He sends me off to bring blankets to those who need them far more than he.

As I reflect upon the miracle of God Among Us, I consider who it is who might need a blanket to ease his cold or to comfort her aching soul. That Bethlehem Baby seems insistent that it is up to me to do what I can to provide what is needed.

Loving God, your invitation to love one another sets the tone of every new day. Help me to respond as you would.

©2019 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved