Make It A God Day!

I much prefer face-to-face and telephone interactions to email and texts. Still, I use my handheld and desktop devices to communicate in one way or another every day. Over the years, I’ve developed adequate publishing skills and enough technical knowledge not to disrupt my computer’s functions too often. Still, I’ve experienced the occasional snafu usually through my own ineptitude. Much to my dismay, this occurred a few weeks ago. Somehow, I’d deleted my email account. After struggling to retrace my steps for hours, I realized that I needed far more expertise than I possess to retrieve it. What had I done? In desperation, I set aside my panic long enough to reach out to a friend.

Much to my good fortune, Andy generously agreed to rescue me. I think my tearful over-the-phone explanation encouraged him to come to my aid in person rather than trying to guide me from afar. While I waited for his arrival, more tears streamed down my face. When I deleted that email account, I’d lost my blog account and more than two thousand of my daily reflections. Once again, I asked myself, “What have I done?” I had no time to answer because the doorbell rang. A very calm Andy must have sensed my distress. Before he did a thing, Andy alleviated my worst fears by assuring me that everything I thought I’d lost was indeed somewhere. With that, he quickly and amazingly restored it all. Within minutes, I’d replaced my tears with a smile and returned to my work.

Because this technological frenzy had persisted for hours before Andy’s rescue, I was behind with my writing. Before returning to the reflection at hand, I tackled the thirty or so emails which had accumulated since the onset of my misery. Though I normally think far more quickly than I type, I did this even more so as I made my way through those messages. I proof-read often to see that I’d written what I’d intended to write. Oddly, though it hadn’t been that sort of a day for me, my most frequent error occurred at the close of almost every one of my replies. I’d intended to end with “Have a good day!” However, I actually typed, “Have a god day!” Why was I so consistent with this particular error? I had made this mistake before, but never with such consistency. Had I hit the “o” key so quickly that the second “o” didn’t register? It took me several minutes to acknowledge that “g-o-d” was far more than the misspelling of “good.” It’s the single most important word that I know. Was my error actually a subconscious or perhaps inspired effort to offer my email recipients much more than a good day? Perhaps my error wasn’t a spelling error at all, but rather an error in capitalization. Perhaps I should have been typing, “Have a God day!” all along. After all, Andy had certainly given me a God day when he saved my email and my writing.

I’m sharing all of this with you because “God days” seem to be at the core of Jesus’ message to his disciples this Ascension Day. When he bade them farewell, Jesus reminded his friends of the most important aspects of his teaching. God blessed each of us with the potential for a lifetime of God days. If Jesus’ friends took his words to heart, every day would be a “God day” for them. Though we hear different Ascension gospels each year, Jesus’ promise remains the same.

In today’s account from Luke (Luke 24:46-53), Jesus said, “And behold I am sending the promise of my Father upon you.” Luke wrote to impress upon his readers Jesus’ promise that God would be with them in everything. Mark’s account (Mark 16:15-20) tells us that Jesus asked his disciples to “Go into the world and proclaim the gospel to every creature.” By sharing the word, they would assure all who listened of God’s love for them. Every day would be a God day for all concerned. In Matthew’s account (Matthew 28:16-20), Jesus added this promise: “I will be with you always, until the end of the world.” Jesus promised to remain at their sides through everything. John’s gospel ends without a reference to the Ascension. When John’s gospel is read on Ascension Day, this reference to the Last Supper is cited: “Lifting up his eyes to heaven, Jesus prayed, saying: ‘Holy Father, I pray not only for them, but also for those who will believe in me through their word…’” Jesus’ prayer included not only the disciples who walked with him, but also all who would eventually be touched by their efforts. Indeed, “God days” are intended for everyone.

On this Feast of the Ascension, we are invited to join the disciples in making every day a “God day” for ourselves and for all whom we meet along the way. Through all that he said and did, Jesus assured those in his company that they were loved more than they could ever imagine and that God was with them in good times and in bad. It’s up to us to do the same. This likely won’t involve our preaching on street corners or mountainsides. However, if we follow Jesus’ lead, these efforts will involve sharing God’s love as best we can whenever we can. Every time we repeat this precious message through our interactions and our relationships with those we’ve been given to love, we make their days and our own “God days”. As for me, I’m most grateful that my friend Andy imitated Jesus’ generosity in transforming that potentially devastating day into a God day for me.

©2019 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

We NEVER Walk Alone!

A few weeks ago, I finished my umpteenth reading of a favorite book which addresses the afterlife and our own struggles as we make our way there. As I closed the familiar volume, I wondered if the author had written anything more recently. When I entered his name online, images appeared of my now-ragged paperback and two additional titles. I immediately announced to my poor husband that we should expect a package in the next few days as I was ordering both new books and two extra copies of my favorite. Since my copy is no longer suitable to share, I need these extra copies to lend to interested friends. After placing that order, I went to the fullest and most frequently visited shelf of my bookcase. Though I’d intended to purge my collection to make room for my newly discovered prizes, I realized that I couldn’t part with any of my books.

I’ve been a student of death and dying since childhood. By the time I was nine years old, my uncle, both grandfathers and my dad had passed away. My remaining family members responded to these losses with absolute faith in our loved ones’ newfound heavenly bliss and I fully believed them in this regard. Still, when I began college and discovered that there were sources other than the Bible and catechisms to be found which address death and life after death, I immediately enrolled in a class which explored these topics. One of our required textbooks was written by Dr. Elizabeth Kubler-Ross, a medical pioneer who defined the stages of dying as she cared for her terminal patients. Dr. Kubler-Ross is also likely the first medical doctor to admit publicly that she believed her patients’ seemingly incredible stories regarding their near-death experiences and the hereafter. It’s safe to say that I’ve read almost every book written on these topics since. I admit that, when given the chance, I can speak ad infinitum regarding all of this. When asked why I’m so interested in these things, I consistently answer from my heart: “They remind me that this life is do-able and worth all of our effort!”

The numerous determined authors who chronicle the stories of others or who write of their own experiences in these areas do so because they can’t help sharing their remarkable news with all who will listen. My favorite book and its counterparts have certainly added a new dimension to my faith and substantiated my hope regarding eternal life. These writings inspire me to plug away regardless of the difficulties at hand because I know what lies ahead at the end of this journey. I’m quite certain they’ve done the same for many who journey with me.

On this Pentecost Sunday, we celebrate Jesus’ efforts in convincing his disciples of the same. Jesus’ years of teaching through both his word and his example had been blurred in the midst of his passion and death and throughout the days which followed. The disciples felt terribly alone. Fear paralyzed them and they hid, wondering all the while if they, too, would hang from a cross. In spite of all that Jesus had said and done, they trembled. Though Jesus could have moved on to heaven without looking back, he returned to encourage his friends. Jesus appeared to Mary Magdalene to offer her the gift his peace. When Jesus appeared among Peter and the rest, he didn’t chastise or rebuke them for deserting him. He didn’t review his lessons or question their understanding. The first thing Jesus said to them was, “Peace be with you.” Jesus’ purpose throughout these post-resurrection encounters was to fill up the disciples with his enduring presence and his enduring peace. If they believed that Jesus was with them in everything, they would endure. If they believed that they would survive their own deaths as Jesus had, they would prosper. Jesus’ final lesson assured all who would listen that this life is indeed do-able because none of them would be alone in their efforts. One day, each one would cross into eternal life just as well.

The scriptures tell us that, after Jesus’ ascension into heaven, the disciples returned to hiding. So it was that on the first Pentecost God’s Holy Spirit rushed in with a dramatic reminder of God’s enduring peace and presence in their lives. The wind and rumbling walls quickly drew their attention, renewed their hope and nudged them into action. The fire within them finally ignited fully and urged them out onto the streets of Jerusalem to spread God’s word. Suddenly, the things to come seemed within reach and the disciples’ lives became do-able after all.

As for me, I’ll continue to read about our journeys into the afterlife. Every word will underscore my conviction that God’s peace abounds and that God is with us in everything regardless of how alone we may feel at times. With every page I turn, I will celebrate this reality and reaffirm my conviction that, when all is said and done, this life is do-able and worth all of our effort. None of us will ever walk alone and we’ll all end this journey in God’s good company.

©2018 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Loved Always and Forever!

It was decades ago…

Early that morning, I was sitting alone in the teachers’ lounge. I needed a few minutes to gather my thoughts before the school day began. My stepdad had been ill and I felt quite certain that he was in the midst of his last hospital stay. I didn’t realize a colleague had joined me until she said, “Mary, are you okay?” I smiled as I assured her that all was well. I must’ve been convincing because she replied, “Then can I ask you to do me a favor? I bought this book for a baby shower gift and I don’t know if it’s appropriate. Will you read it?” Since I felt badly about misrepresenting my state of mind seconds earlier, of course I agreed to help her. This was the day I became acquainted with Robert Munsch’s book, LOVE YOU FOREVER. When I delivered the book to that teacher’s classroom a few minutes later, I tearfully assured her that her purchase was the best baby shower gift I’d ever seen. It also unexpectedly lifted my spirits. After school that day, I clearly recall announcing to my dear husband that I needed to find that book and to purchase a copy of my own…

Year’s later, shortly after our parish was founded, my husband-the-deacon read that book at all of the Masses on our first Mother’s Day together in 1992. Mike’s gathered our children at the foot of the altar to do the same every year since. Though the book might seem to be a cutesy means to keep the children’s attention for a Mother’s Day homily, its message is meant to do far more for us all. When we listen carefully as Mike reads, we who believe in God’s promises can’t help identifying with the outlandish antics of the child and the eternal patience of the mother in the story. By the end of the book, we who believe in eternal life understand that the experiences of this child and parent illustrate precisely the relationship which God offers to each one of us. Let me explain…

From his infancy, Mother finds her helpless baby irresistible and she promises to love him forever. As is the case with us all, it doesn’t take long for this child to become adept at performing in less-than-lovable ways. Mother thinks the worst that can happen is having her watch flushed down the toilet until her toddler grows into boyhood and then his teens with all of the accompanying trials and tribulations. Still, whatever phase her child grows into, Mother repeats her promise to love him forever. Eventually, the young man leaves home for life in the world. In spite of the distance between them, Mother makes her way to her son to repeat her pledge to love him. As is often the case with those of us blessed with “seasoned” parents, the day arrives when Mother can no longer make her way to her son. She calls and invites him to come to her so she might to speak those words of promise to him one more time. You’ll have to read the book to discover what occurs when mother and child meet…

On this Ascension Day, Jesus finds himself in a similar predicament as his time on this earth with his disciples comes to a close. Though we hear different Ascension gospels each year, the core of Jesus’ message remains the same. In Luke’s account (Luke 24:46-53), Jesus says, “And behold I am sending the promise of my Father upon you.” Luke impresses upon us Jesus’ promise that God will be with us in everything. In today’s account from Mark’s gospel (Mark 16:15-20), Jesus asks his disciples to “Go into the world and proclaim the gospel to every creature.” By sharing the Word, they will assure all who listen of God’s love for them. In Matthew’s gospel (Matthew 28:16-20), Jesus adds his promise, “I will be with you always, until the end of the world.” Jesus promises to remain at their sides through everything. Like the mother in Robert Munsch’s story, Jesus repeats his promise to those he loves over and over again. This is precisely the point of everything Jesus said and did. By the end of the story, you realize that Jesus’ hope is the same as that of the grown child’s mother: That his beloved children accept love and that they learn to love generously in return.

You know, my stepdad passed away not long after I read LOVE YOU FOREVER in the teachers’ lounge that morning. When I bade him my final good-bye, I pictured my stepdad cradled in God’s arms just as that mother had cradled her son and just as that son had eventually cradled his mother. I was convinced that God wouldn’t begin my stepdad’s first day at home in heaven any other way. So it is that I thank you, Robert Munsch, for the poignant glimpse of God’s love which your wonderful book has given me. Thank you, Jesus, for preaching this very lesson every day of your life among us. Thank you, God, for loving each of us through our lifetime journeys home to you. Thank you, Moms (and dad’s!) for doing your best to teach the same!

©2018 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Munsch, Robert (1986). LOVE YOU FOREVER. Ontario, Canada: Firefly Books.
This book is available in bookstores and online.

God Days

I’ve always preferred handwritten letters to email. Still, I communicate via email every day. I thought I’d adapted to this expedited mode of communication until this morning. After rereading the Mother’s Day cards I received from my family, I stowed them in my memento drawer. It’s always a mistake to open this drawer because I can’t walk away without revisiting the correspondence there. This time, a letter from our son Mike caught my eye.

Our son’s letter opened with “Mom + Dad” and closed with that all-important “Love, Mike.” It was quite impressive that Mike had written at all as it was the end of the last semester of college and he was in the midst of finals. Nonetheless, he took the time to warn us about an unexpected charge on his credit card. He needed clothing for a job interview and he determined that this was one of those “emergencies” for which we’d provided that card. After apologizing for the expenditure, he added that his grades would soothe any discomfort we were feeling as he expected them to be very good. I suppose he added that “Love, Mike” for good measure. I laughed as I read from the yellowed notebook paper in my hand. I wondered what Mike would have written if he’d been able to text that day. Would he have included the reassurance regarding his grades? Would he have added, “Love, Mike”? My musing brought to mind my own experiences with texting and email.

My extensive use of written language requires me to rely on automatic spell-check and my own proofreading to ensure that my messages say what I intend. Because I think far more quickly than I type, my typos are numerous. Oddly, my most frequent error occurs when I close my emails with “Have a good day!” While proofreading, I invariably find that I’ve actually typed, “Have a god day!” This compels me to wonder if I should use the email and texting shortcuts or imojis which save everyone else so much time and space. Or, should I end my emails without that final call to a “good” day? As I ponder further, it occurs to me that “g-o-d” is far more than the misspelling of “good.” It’s actually the most important word that I know. Finally, I consider the possibility that my frequent error may be an inspired effort to offer my email recipients much more than a good day. Perhaps this error isn’t a spelling error at all, but rather an error in capitalization. Perhaps I should have been typing “Have a God day!” all along. I share all of this because “God days” seem to be at the core of last Jesus’ message to his disciples before ascending to heaven. Just as my son made his point by closing his letter with “Love, Mike”, Jesus closed his time with his disciples with specific language regarding his absolute faith in and love for each one of them.

When Jesus bade them farewell, he reminded his friends of the most important aspects of his teaching. If they took his words to heart, every day they lived would be a “God day” for them. Though we hear different Ascension gospels each year, the core of Jesus’ message remains the same. In Luke’s account (Luke 24:46-53), Jesus said, “And behold I am sending the promise of my Father upon you.” Luke wrote to impress upon us Jesus’ promise that God will be with us in everything. Mark’s account (Mark 16:15-20) shares that Jesus asked his disciples to “Go into the world and proclaim the gospel to every creature.” By sharing the Word, they would assure all who listened of God’s love for them. In today’s account from Matthew (Matthew 28:16-20), Jesus added his promise, “I will be with you always, until the end of the world.” Jesus promised to remain at their sides through everything. John’s gospel ends without reference to the Ascension. Perhaps John felt that Jesus had said all that needed to be said long before he ascended. When John’s gospel is read on Ascension Day, this reference to the Last Supper is cited: “Lifting up his eyes to heaven, Jesus prayed, saying: ‘Holy Father, I pray not only for them, but also for those who will believe in me through their word…’” Jesus’ prayer included not only the disciples who walked with him, but also all of us who would eventually be touched by their efforts. Apparently, “God days” are intended for us all.

On this Ascension Day, as I consider Jesus’ last conversations with this friends, I can’t help thinking of my son’s letter. Though he shared a bit of bad news regarding that credit card bill, he surrounded it with the good news regarding his grades and job interview. More importantly, he ended with a reminder that his mom and dad are loved. Jesus ended every interaction with the assurance that those around him were loved. When Jesus left his disciples that day, he prayed that they and all of us would do the same. In light of God’s great love for us and our invitation to share that love, I can’t help using my new email closing: “Have a God day!”

©2017 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Love Remains With Us

This morning, while my husband and son ran an errand together, I happily played with our little grandson. Like most nine-month-olds, Danny remains engaged with whatever he is doing for only so long. When Danny made it clear that he was tired of playing on the floor with me, I scooped him up and we walked around the house. We stopped at the patio door which opens to our backyard…

“Your Daddy and Uncle Mike used to play here,” I began…. Every summer, my husband and I cleaned and refilled the boys’ sandbox. Every summer, our sons rediscovered the joys of sand. Our son Mike instructed his little brother Tim regarding the intricacies of road building. Mike carefully guided Tim’s hand as Tim pulled a small shovel through the sand just deep enough to fashion a road that would accommodate Matchbox cars. Apparently, Tim caught on quickly because in no time he and his big brother were pushing trucks and cars down a sandy highway. As I turned my attention back to Danny, I prayed that my sons will always work this well together.

“Your Daddy and Uncle Mike used to do chores out here, too,” I continued… Mike was fifteen or so when he watered the flowers for his dad. Intrigued by his brother’s discipline and determined to distract him, seven-year-old Tim ran his hand through the stream of water coming from the hose and splashed Mike. It didn’t occur to Tim that his brother controlled a good deal more water than he did. In no time, Tim was soaked from head to toe and he and Mike were laughing uncontrollably. As I explained to Danny that this wasn’t exactly how watering the flowers was supposed to go, I prayed that my sons will always be able to laugh together.

“Your Daddy and Uncle Mike grew up. When Uncle Mike got married, they were in the backyard again,” I shared… It was Mike’s wedding day and we provided lunch for him and his groomsmen before the ceremony. This time, Mike and Tim compared their cufflinks and vests. My son the groom noted that his younger brother looked “cool.” My son the best man noted that his older brother’s gray vest and tie were good choices for the day. Before I made it outdoors to check on lunch and to hug them both, my two young men came inside for their tuxedo jackets and a last-minute tie adjustment. As I placed the lunch dishes into the sink, I prayed that my sons will always be there for one another in good times and in tough times.

“Your Daddy and Uncle Mike and our whole family still play in this backyard,” I explained… Another wedding and three births added to our company in that yard. It was last summer when Tim’s expectant wife assisted Mike’s wife in corralling our three granddaughters while Mike and Tim set up the Bags Game for a couples’ tournament. “Mommy and Daddy were expecting you when they played bags that day!” When I looked to see Danny’s reaction, I discovered that he was fast asleep.

Though these stories meant little to Danny this morning, they set the tone for this writing. As I consider the Feast of the Ascension, I find that I am most appreciative of the scene that unfolded among Jesus and his friends that day. Just as my husband and I stepped back to allow our sons to make their way in this world, Jesus took his leave and allowed the disciples to do the same. Jesus taught them to work together. He laughed with them and showed them the importance of remaining together in good times and bad. On that Ascension day, Jesus looked lovingly at the disciples just as my husband and I have looked upon our sons over the years. The road that lies before each of us in this life is treacherous at best. Still, God sends us forth just as Jesus sent forth his friends that day and just as we send forth our own children. How fitting it is that we celebrate The Ascension and Mother’s Day together! Both events celebrate our capacities to guide those we have been given to love just as Jesus did and just as God does every moment of every day. Happy Mother’s Day!

©2016 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

The Gift of Pentecost

Until a few weeks ago, I had been on a bit of a roll. I had edited and added to a book which I’ve held in my head and my heart for far too long. I had reached Page 79 when life became complicated and I set aside this project for a while. I left the file open in order to add to it when time permitted -my first mistake. This morning, while working with another large document, I closed my book file. I wasn’t worried about this until I reopened it and discovered that the last twenty-plus pages were missing. I always click “save” throughout writing sessions and whenever I close them. I was so pleased with this progress on the book that I could not imagine that I forgot to save it. Nonetheless, the pages were gone.

I vacillated between anger and despair and then sought help. A friend suggested that I restore my computer. This helped with system issues, but didn’t restore the file. My son walked me through a file history check, but to no avail. My pastor called in the midst of my misery. “Did you have a back-up?” he asked. Well, I made a back-up for each of my previous books, but I failed to do so for this one. Because this world is plagued with far greater woes than my own, I refrained from praying for a miraculous file recovery. Instead, I made a back-up file of what I had and headed outdoors to mourn my loss and to clear my head.

The temperature struggled to reach fifty degrees in spite of the sunshine. I stuffed my hands into my pockets as I made my way down our cul-de-sac. I walked on out of my neighborhood and into the next subdivision. As I walked amidst the townhouses, a chilling breeze blew open my jacket. I zipped up and pulled my hood over my head. I looked toward the cloudless sky and declared, “Not funny!” Afterward, I picked up my pace just enough to create my own heat as I continued. As I warmed up, I inadvertently began to do what I most often do during my walks. I lost myself in Nature. I looked at the branches of every tree I passed to check the leaves. Not many months ago, green leaves turned yellow and brown and then fell to the ground to be trampled and blown away. I discovered that the cycle had continued in the buds and young leaves which had burst forth from charcoal branches everywhere. The wind continued, but I no longer minded.

I whispered an apology to the Almighty as I acknowledged that the cold breeze which assaulted me earlier had accomplished much more. That breeze gave me a chill. However, it also brought the pleasure and wonder, peace and comfort which I desperately needed. I had fretted so about losing those twenty precious pages that I had forgotten the source of my inspiration. Before I write anything, I pray for guidance. It occurred to me that perhaps God has something more valuable to fill those pages. Perhaps God used this event to remind me of the wisdom of backing-up my files. Whichever the case, something good had come of this misadventure. I realized once again that, just as God breathes life into the wonders of Creation, God will breathe life into whatever it is that I am meant to write. God breathes life into all of our efforts. With that, I prayed once again, “Thank you, dear God, for staying with me and for caring.” Before I could add an “amen” to my prayer, the wind blew my hood off of my head and pressed my sleeves against my arms. I took that as the Almighty’s “You’re welcome!”

That first Pentecost, the poor disciples were in a far worse frame of mind than I was when I set out for my walk today. While I had lost a few pages of questionable value, the disciples had lost Jesus himself. Though Jesus appeared among his friends several times after he rose from the dead, Jesus had ascended to heaven ten days earlier. All that remained with his followers were Jesus’ challenge to make disciples of all nations, Jesus’ promise to send the Spirit and Jesus’ insistence that he would remain with them always. Unlike you and I, the poor disciples worried and waited without benefit of two millennia of experiencing Jesus’ word at work. The disciples had no idea of what the future held. It was in the midst of their growing despair that God’s Spirit arrived in raging winds and tongues of fire. Like the cold breeze which chilled me to my senses, that wind and fire demanded the disciples’ attention and then filled them up. Though it took me a few days to get back to my book, Peter and the rest burst out of hiding and preached the Good News that very day. Though life proved never to be easy for them, the disciples persisted because they finally realized that they were never ever alone.

You know, God’s presence is not always tangible. My little Pentecost in the cold Midwest winds filled me with renewed resolve. Still, I sometimes walk in the fearful disciples’ sandals just as we all do. This is when we must let go of our worry and embrace the promise of Pentecost: God’s Holy Spirit is with us when we need God most; God’s Holy Spirit is with us always!

©2015 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved