God’s Door Is Always Open

“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.

©2016 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

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Mary and Joseph

My soul magnifies the Lord
and my spirit rejoices in God my savior,
for God has looked down upon this servant in her lowliness;
all ages to come shall call me blessed.

Luke 1:46-48

Many of the Christmas cards we’ve received this year feature images of Mary, Joseph and Jesus. Each one brings to mind my childhood impressions of Jesus’ family. I imagined Mary and Joseph full of joy, unable to contain their love for God’s child whom they awaited. In my innocence, I pictured a Hallmark Card birth. Full of peace, Mary and Joseph needed only to bow their heads in prayer and wait for the baby’s birth. “God will take care of everything!” I imagined them saying.

Life and the realities of Mary’s and Joseph’s day have taught me that things were not quite as easy for them as my childhood musings suggest. Mary embarked upon a treacherous journey when she became pregnant. She risked her very life as the consequences of a pregnancy out-of-wedlock were harsh at best. Mary survived because she and Joseph embraced God’s plans with absolute faith. Truly, it was Joseph’s willingness to cooperate in all of this which saved Mary. In spite of their trials and tribulations, Mary and Joseph trusted in God’s faithfulness to them. After Jesus’ birth, Mary’s and Joseph’s trust would be tested and strengthened time and time again. As it happened, their trust was well-placed.

Loving God, just as you were faithful to MAry and Joseph, you are faithful to me and to all of your children. Strengthen our faith and increase our hope with glimpses of your presence among us. On Christmas Day, may we all experience Mary’s and Joseph’s joy and your unshakable love.

©2016 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Always Something To Learn

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

Luke 1:66

When I arrived at home after tending to a few 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. Three years ago, Mike stopped climbing onto the roof above the garage to string lights on our second floor eaves. We both agreed that it was more important for him to make in to Christmas Day unscathed. Lighting in the first floor eaves is enough. One year later, I slipped on the ice at ground level while stringing lights on a tree which was shorter than I am. This resulted in a laceration to my scalp and twelve staples to close it.

As I drove into the garage, I shuddered at this memory. The truth is that my fall had caused me to feel uncharacteristically vulnerable. At the time, I wondered if I had reached the age when this type of thing might occur more frequently. The possibility unnerved me as I had planned (and still do!) 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 gratitude. I thanked God that nothing particularly threatening has happened in recent history. Mike has stayed off of the roof and I have watched more carefully for ice patches and many other obstacles. Perhaps that slip prevented far worse because I’ve learned to be more careful.

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

©2016 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Inspire As Only You Can!

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

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 to start the 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 Carol’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 wonderful 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.

©2016 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

We Always Manage…

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 back 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, “What kind of night was it in Bethlehem? 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.

©2016 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Be A Hero… Inspire Joy!

We humans are a powerful bunch. One of our three-second smiles can transform a friend’s troubled outlook into joy. A single thoughtful compliment can put a bounce in the step of a colleague who’s been feeling dejected as of late. An arm wrapped around the shoulders of our contrite offspring quickly returns peace to his or her little world. These small efforts pale in the light of the saints and heroes who’ve walked this earth. Still, I think any one of these special people would assure us that their small efforts to love their fellow humans were precisely what empowered them to do the things which we consider to be extraordinary.

If given the chance, I think each of us could assemble a long list of the people who’ve influenced us most over the course of our lives. Their contributions to who we have become made a difference regardless of their stature in the world at large. In my life, even the powerful interactions which fell on the negative side of things instilled wisdom which eventually made an important difference in me.

The scripture passages for this Fourth Sunday of Advent feature some of the most influential of our biblical counterparts. In the first reading (Isaiah 7:10-14), Isaiah emerges once again to uplift his suffering people who are convinced that they face certain annihilation at the hands of their enemies. In this encounter, Isaiah reminds the people that God is with them. Indeed, God would remain with them regardless of the outcome of any threat which loomed overhead. In the second reading (Romans 1:1-7), Paul echoes Isaiah’s reassurance. Paul goes on to point out that he himself had persecuted the God’s people until he experienced Jesus for himself. Because of his newfound faith, Paul’s life changed forever. So it happened that on that day Paul stood with Jesus’ followers and assured them that God remained with them as well. If Isaiah’s and Paul’s great faith aren’t enough, Matthew’s gospel (Matthew 1:18-24) reminds us that Jesus and his parents faced uncertain circumstances from the very beginning of their life together.

I admit that our biblical heroes and heroines sometimes seem a bit too distant to have a lasting impact on me. Having written that, I must quickly add that this is never the case with Joseph and Mary. Of all of those who have come before us, this duo lived amazingly similar, yet frightfully more adverse lives than our own. Matthew chronicled the ominous adversity which Jesus’ parents dealt with from the moment they discovered he was on the way. Do you recall the angel’s visit to Mary? While Mary placed absolute faith in God’s plan for her, Joseph prepared to welcome his bride to his home. When Mary shared the news of her pregnancy, she shattered poor Joseph’s dreams. Being a just man who loved Mary dearly, Joseph decided to divorce her quietly rather than to expose her to shame and possible stoning to death (the prescribed punishment to unmarried pregnant women of the day). Amazingly, when Joseph encountered the truth about Jesus’ conception in a dream, he embraced this message and welcomed Mary and her child into his life. Joseph knew with certainty that God was with him. On that first Christmas night, Mary’s and Joseph’s faith morphed into absolute joy when they finally saw Jesus’ sweet little face. It is that face which inspired them to persist throughout the decades of uncertainty which lay ahead.

On this last Sunday of Advent, I offer my thanks for the heroes and heroines who have made me who I am. Whether I met them face to face or encountered them in books, the scriptures or prayer, I’m going to try to emulate them as I work my way to Christmas Day. I write “work” intentionally. As organized as you and I may be, we will run at one time or another this week. Whether we scramble for last-minute gifts or to respond to an unexpected request for assistance, we will do what we must for those who need us and to ready ourselves. When we respond with grace to what is asked of us, we’ll honor those who’ve contributed to who we are today, especially God who orchestrated it all. At the same time, we’ll evolve into heroines and heroes ourselves who inspire others to do the same. This is the power of our humanity!

You know, I began Advent 2016 with a message of hope. That hope evolved into joy and then into an inclination to share that joy. Today, it seems that we are called to share that joy heroically. Though our efforts often seem small to us, they mean everything to those who need us. Indeed, we humans are a very powerful bunch. What better time is there to show it?

©2016 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved