2019? Only God Knows…

No one has ever seen God…
From John 1:18

It is the teacher in me who taught me to make the most of our winter breaks. When I taught second and third graders, their unrest before Christmas vacation betrayed their anticipation regarding what Santa might place under their trees on Christmas Day. I engaged in some extremely creative teaching to keep my students’ attention until I finally dismissed them for their two-week hiatus. Because my husband was a school principal, his office needed a revolving door during those final days as a few students needed more than their teachers’ creativity to contain them. When we had children of our own, we did our best to send them off to school with plenty of “encouragement” to do their best until the final bell rang and vacation began.

This time away from school was truly a gift to all concerned. Though having the kids at home while trying to prepare for Christmas was a challenge, their involvement added to all of our appreciation of the season. When Christmas Day arrived, we had much to celebrate together.

This New Year’s Eve, another variety of anticipation and a bit of uncertainty sets in. Like the children who wondered what gifts Christmas would bring, I wonder what the New Year has in store. The truth is that God only knows. So it is that I settle in to enjoy this evening with those I have been given to love. I will trust that, whatever 2019 brings, God will be with us through it all.

Loving God, thank you for your loving care today, throughout the coming year and always.

©2018 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Advertisements

Bring Christmas Joy to Every Day!

Recent Christmas shopping and wrapping drew my thoughts to the precious parcels we present to our loved ones each year. Whether we’re gifting a family member, a dear friend or a person in need whose name appears on a colorful tag, we express our love through these offerings. Though our children have been adults for some time, my dear husband and I continue to do the same. We do our best to gift them with something which will bring smiles to their faces on Christmas Day. This year, as Mike and I plotted in this regard, I recalled the year when Christmas morning’s surprises weren’t quite enough for our older son. Our firstborn was seeking a bit of Christmas Joy long before December 25…

It was a quarter century ago and a few weeks before Christmas when our son Mike returned home from a friend’s house. “Why don’t we put out our presents before Christmas?” he asked. “My friends’ parents wrap up the gifts and put them out right away. They get to look at them and try to figure out what they’re getting. We don’t get to see anything around here!” Because he was in high school at the time, Mike’s observations perplexed me. Though he’d begrudgingly participated in our annual trek to Wisconsin for a Christmas Tree, he hadn’t shown much interest in decorating it. I was hanging ornaments alone when Mike voiced his concerns. When asked what he might like for Christmas, this son of ours provided minimal ideas which implied that a bit of cash might be the best gift of all. At the same time, he quizzed his younger brother frequently about what he wanted for Christmas. My elder child vacillated between wanting to prepare for Christmas Day and his inability to wait for Christmas Joy.

I considered my son’s predicament as I placed a few more ornaments on the tree. Memories of events that inspired annual ornament purchases (Mike’s first Christmas, his fascination with Santa, then sports, then the telephone, then girls and then driving) filled my head. Mike enjoyed Christmas as a little boy, but he struggled at that time to find meaning in the holy day. I maintained then, as I do today, that the Christmas Season is my favorite time of year. I couldn’t bear the thought of my own child not celebrating Christmas with equal enthusiasm. With that, I left my decorating to devise a way to give my son an early dose of Christmas Joy. “I think your idea of getting the gifts ready early is great. Tim and Dad will go crazy trying to figure out what we got them,” I said. Never mind that my elder son would join his dad and brother in this wondering! Every few days thereafter, I put out a gift for Mike or Tim or my husband. Oddly enough, there wasn’t much package shaking. I think each of them was afraid of ruining any surprises in the process. My three men did, however, look very carefully to detect even the smallest change in the configuration of gifts lying near the tree. In the process, my men huddled together often to discuss their gift possibilities. They also spent more time than ever enjoying the tree and the collection of ornaments which spoke of Christmas Past, the joy of Christmas Present and the promise of Christmas-to-Come.

When all was said and done, I realized that my son Mike didn’t actually care all that much about his gifts being displayed early on. What he did care about was the sense of joy which he’d enjoyed as a little boy but couldn’t recapture as a young man. Mike envied his friends’ opportunity to relish the Christmas Joy which their gifts represented. Mike also wanted much more than a one-day celebration which would come and go with the ticking of the clock. My son wanted to experience Christmas Joy on the day we talked and every day thereafter! Fortunately, my son managed to find what he needed in this family tradition which we initiated that year. As I write, this year’s gifts lie neatly wrapped and ready for perusal. Both of our sons and their wives are doing the same for one another and the five grandchildren they’ve given us. Yes, Christmas Joy abounds today as it does every day!

Today, Luke’s gospel (Luke 3:10-18) chronicles some of John the Baptist’s efforts to announce Jesus’ coming. God had inspired John to encourage the people by sharing the joy which had arrived in Jesus. The people had struggled for centuries and John’s followers were more than ready to embrace the long-awaited Messiah. It was John the Baptist’s good fortune to be the first to assure them that their waiting was over. God was among them!

I think my son Mike had the right idea when he looked for Christmas Joy a little early that year. He’d lost something important to him and he wanted to recapture it. In the process, he unwittingly shared his newly recovered joy with the rest of us. God invites you and me to do the same. Just as John the Baptist risked his life and my son risked an argument with his mother to celebrate God’s presence among us every day, you and I can do what we must to bring the Joy of Christmas to the moment at hand.

©2018 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Hearts Like God’s

We give thanks to God always for all of you,
remembering you in our prayers…

1 Thessalonians 1:2

I was very excited to cross off another item on my “check-up” list. I’d gone to my internist and eye doctor and had a mammogram. When I arrived for this appointment, I was taken aback by the waiting room filled with pregnant women. I’m well past that possibility and it hadn’t occurred to me that I might wait in the company of so many mommies-in-waiting. The good news is that they all appeared cheerful as they chatted about their pregnancies and shared helpful tips with one another.

Though I’d brought a book along to occupy myself while I waited, I didn’t read a word. Instead, I stared at the same page all the while as I listened to the exchanges around me. I admit that I filled up with love as the young women around me shared their joy with one another. “Ah, to be young again!” I thought. I clearly recalled the joy my husband and I experienced throughout my pregnancies with both of our sons. It was only when the nurse interrupted my musing that I remembered the reason I was sitting in that waiting room.

As she escorted me to the examination room, I remembered the moments when the doctor confirmed each pregnancy. I fell in love with those babies-to-be instantly. Such are the hearts of parents. They are fashioned to love their children no matter what. Did you know that God’s heart works the same way?

Loving God, thank you for teaching us to love in such amazing ways.

©2018 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Twelve + One Miracles!

Out of the depths, we dance before you, O Lord,
because, Lord, you heard our voices and you stayed with us.
You gave us the wisdom to persist and to think and to pray until we got it right.
And, Lord, we did!

A joyous and grateful rewrite of Psalm 130

I went to bed Monday night with a prayer on my lips. Though I normally fall asleep quickly, that night, I lay wide-eyed as I began. After acknowledging that God has placed the welfare of this planet and of each one of us in our hands, I also acknowledged that God remains with us in everything. I dared to go on. I pointed out that I would never stand by in the midst of a tragedy and do nothing. I also pointed out that it is God who instilled this propensity to help within me. With that, I added the obvious…

“Dear God, I know you feel the same way. Please breathe enough know-how and stamina and courage into those divers to make their way to the remaining four soccer kids and their coach. Then, please give the same to those kids and that coach so they can all emerge from that cave alive and well.”

I normally don’t hear responses when I pray and Monday night was no exception. However, for unknown reasons, I fell asleep contemplating just how proud God must have been of all who were participating in this rescue. Seven countries assisted the Thais in these efforts. The Thai people stood by as so many did around the world offering ongoing prayers for all concerned.

This morning, I woke to the news that the recovery was complete. I looked upward through tears of joy to whisper my thanks that all twelve soccer kids and their coach were rescued. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again. We can accomplish the amazing and, yes, the miraculous, when we work together for good.

God of Love, thank you for fashioning us with such remarkable abilities. Be with us as we try to emulate that rescue team’s good will at every opportunity.

©2018 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

God Is Here

In the beginning was the Word;
the Word was in God’s presence
and the Word was God.

John 1:1

The teacher in me taught me to make the most of our winter breaks. When I taught second and third graders, their unrest before Christmas vacation betrayed their anticipation regarding what Santa might place under their trees on Christmas Day. I engaged in some extremely creative teaching to keep my students’ attention until I finally dismissed them for their two-week hiatus. Because my husband was a school principal, his office needed a revolving door during those final days as a few students needed more than their teachers’ creativity to contain them. When we had children of our own, we did our best to send them off to school with plenty of “encouragement” to behave until the final bell rang and vacation began.

This time away from school was truly a gift to all concerned. Though having the kids at home while trying to prepare for Christmas was a challenge, their involvement added to all of our appreciation of the season. When Christmas Day arrived, we had much to celebrate together.

Tomorrow is New Year’s Eve and another variety of anticipation and a bit of uncertainty sets in. Like the children who wondered what gifts Christmas would bring, I wonder what the New Year has in store. The truth is that God only knows. So it is that tomorrow I will settle in to enjoy the Eve of the New Year with those I’ve been given to love. I will trust that, whatever 2018 brings, God will be with us through it all.

Loving God, thank you for your loving care today, throughout the coming year and always.

©2017 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Find Joy and Share It!

As we begin our worship today, the pink candle which flickers among the purple calls us to rejoice. The Advent Season is half over and our anticipation of Christmas will soon be satisfied. As I consider the lessons of the past week, I find that I relied quite heavily upon the inspiration I drew from Isaiah. The First Sunday of Advent, Isaiah called us clay formed into goodness by God’s own hand and we prayed that God would make it so. Last Sunday, Isaiah moved us from God’s hands to God’s heart. The prophet called us lambs held in God’s bosom and soothed by the rhythm of God’s heartbeat. We prayed that our hearts might be synchronized with God’s so we might respond to this world as God does. Indeed, this prayer was answered for me…

This past Saturday, my sister Rita hosted a gathering of our cousins. This annual reunion rouses the Christmas Spirit in even the most harried of us. Cheerful conversation and bread broken together made for a most enjoyable afternoon. Though my cousins and I have raised our own children and added several grandchildren to the mix, as we sat around Rita’s table, I quickly returned to my childhood. Though we’ve all evolved into vintage versions of our former selves, I found great joy in envisioning my cousins, my sisters and me as children.

As is always the case, after sharing each of our families’ current events, our conversation drifted to the many family members who are no longer with us. Only our dear Uncle Gerard remains of all of our parents. We’ve also lost cousins who were far too young to take their leave. Still, the spirits of these loved ones lingered about us as we laughed over the decades of great times we shared with them. As I considered my family members in the hereafter, I could almost hear my mom and dad assuring me, “You know, Mary, if you really believe what you say you believe, you know that this is what we lived for. We are in a very good place!” I was tempted to respond aloud, “Yes, but I still miss you!” Of course, I thought better of this as I didn’t want to leave my extended family with the impression that I’d gone over the deep end with no life-preserver! Rather, I reminded them of our parents’ great faith and how they comforted us each and every time we had to say good-bye. Though our collective childhood was punctuated too often by these events, my most vivid memory of our family gatherings continues to be the joy we found in the midst of them.

As I prepared for this writing, it occurred to me that my faith-filled upbringing has much in common with our Advent 2017 journey. Both have much to teach us. The past year has been a sobering experience on many levels. Worldwide unrest, unyielding natural disasters and ever-worsening violence have given us all reason to step back to find some perspective. At the same time, our hearts nudge us forward to do something to improve things. My parents’ faith gave me some sense of God’s ongoing concern and our Advent journeys do the same. As we focus upon the joy of Christmas 2017, we must become the clay in God’s hands and the lambs in God’s arms. We must do what we can to transform every day with the joy God infused into the first Christmas.

This is where we find Isaiah in today’s first reading (Isaiah 61:1-2a, 10-11). This prophet who allowed himself to be molded by God’s hands and who aligned his own heart with God’s heart announced, “The spirit of the Lord God is upon me, because the Lord has anointed me; he has sent me to bring glad tidings to the poor, to heal the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and release to the prisoners, to announce a year of favor from the Lord…” As Isaiah came to understand God’s intent more fully, he preached tirelessly to encourage those around him to do the same. Centuries later, John’s gospel (1:6-8, 19-28) echoed Isaiah’s message through The Baptizer. When asked his role in the grand scheme of things, John the Baptist responded, “I am the voice of one crying out in the desert, make straight the way of the Lord.” He continued Isaiah’s attempt to bring understanding to the people regarding all that God has in store. As was the case with Isaiah, John’s work was difficult. As for you and me, we can choose to be hard-hearted people completely distracted by this life’s troubles or we can allow God to mold us into joyful lambs who can’t help sharing the good news of what lies beyond our journeys here!

The joy we find in this church today invites us to look beyond the windows into a world of opportunity to spread the promise of Christmas. However we choose to do so, we can bring joy to the moments at hand. However we choose to do so, we can make every day Christmas Day for ourselves and for those we’ve been given to love both nearby and far away.

©2017 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved