Our Truly Wonderful Lives

This is the Feast of the Baptism of the Lord. Today, the church closes the Christmas Season just as we have in our homes. I admit that I delayed the process for as long as possible. It was only when a local meteorologist promised bearable temperatures that I set aside my reluctance to assist my husband. Because our younger and more daring friend assisted Mike with the outdoor lighting, I tended to the indoors. I urged myself on with this year’s take-down-the-tree viewing of It’s A Wonderful Life. Because I began my work in the living room and the television is in the family room, I raised the volume enough to allow me to hear the dialogue while I worked. This film is such a part of me that I can visualize every scene without watching a single frame. While the guys rolled up light strings outdoors, George Bailey and I became reacquainted indoors.

As I boxed ornaments and rolled up my own portion of lights, I celebrated the many people to whom George’s life had made all of the difference in the world. As I absorbed the dialogue, images from George Bailey’s life flooded my memory. The selfless decisions which defined George elicited frequent tears. Though I’ve seen the movie numerous times, I suffered every disappointment with George as though I had no idea that things would work out in the end. “Poor courageous George,” I thought to myself. “If only you realized just how good you are!” And so it went until the movie ended and our Christmas Tree was bare.

When Mike and I finished the tasks at hand, it was time to commit our tree to the parkway. There it would wait for a public works employee to toss it into a truck for the trip to the Land of Mulch. As I considered that barren tree, it occurred to me that George Bailey felt like that tree far too often. He should have felt good about the wonderful things he’d done for others. He saved his brother’s life and that of a sick child who was sent the wrong medicine by a distraught pharmacist. He took over his father’s business to prevent the loss of many jobs and many more homes. He used his own savings to send his brother to college in his place. All the while, George fought temptation in the form of Mr. Potter, the most miserly man in town, to stand up for God’s riff raff. Yes, George Bailey was a good man who gave the working poor and many others something to live for. Finally, when George felt that he had no more to give, the God-of-the-Riff-Raff stepped in through Clarence, a bumbling angel-to-be. If you watch the movie, you can join George in celebrating what truly was a wonderful life. Celebrating our lives on this earth is the point of our celebration of The Baptism of the Lord.

Matthew’s gospel (3:13-17) tells us that John the Baptizer was deeply inspired by Jesus. When Jesus asked to be baptized, John was reluctant to cooperate because he felt Jesus should baptize him. Though pleased with John’s faith, Jesus asked John to baptize him just the same. After John immersed Jesus in the Jordan River, God entered into the scene to announce to all who would hear, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.” These words, proclaimed from the heavens over Jesus, were meant just as readily for John the Baptist, for the George Baileys among us, for you and for me. Though they don’t echo from the clouds above, God speaks these words just as clearly in the depths of our hearts. God’s words resound every time we embrace the difficult, selfless choices that make all of the difference in the world to those around us. When we feel we have no more to give, like George who was tempted to hurl himself off a bridge, God steps in. Though God’s appearance may not be as tangible as that of Clarence, God’s presence is very real.

Though I know how It’s A Wonderful Life will end, I cry through it every time I watch it. This phenomenon repeated itself in Jesus’ life as well. Jesus prayed often. Jesus revealed God’s love in his actions toward those who needed him and in stories like the Parable of the Prodigal Son. Jesus knew his life would end well, yet he suffered more disappointment and discouragement along the way than George Bailey. The same is true of you and me. Though our faith tells us that all will be well in the end, we worry inconsolably. When we fail to see the value of what we do, we join George Bailey on that bridge. Still, it’s when we’re on that bridge that we must recall George’s joy when his life was given back to him. It’s when we’re on that bridge that we must recall God’s words at the baptism of Jesus and realize that they are meant for us as well. “This is my beloved… with whom I am well pleased.” Yes, when we’re on that bridge, our lives are given back to us as well. This happy ending is truly the happiest beginning we will ever know!

©2019 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Always Time For Love

He entered a house and wanted no one to know
about it, but he could not escape notice.

From Mark 7:24

It’s Black Friday. Though early cyber sales and sneak previews drew much attention, crowds in stores and malls everywhere swell exponentially with every passing minute today. As I considered the mass of humanity of which I was a part this morning, I whispered a prayer of gratitude for those retailers who agreed not to open their doors on Thanksgiving Day. Of all of the holidays we celebrate in this country, Thanksgiving Day is the one we all enjoy without regard for our religious affiliations or lack thereof. I thanked God for the generosity of these employers whose workers enjoyed the holiday with their families yesterday.

After uttering a mental “amen” I returned to my list to determine where to go next. A voice near a cashier distracted me. This person remarked that he would be wealthy if he had a dollar for every minute he spent waiting. As the man hurried out of the store, I chuckled to myself. I’d found my own wealth in the few seemingly wasted moments which allowed me to get my bearings. While the world rushed about me, I also found the time to pray.

Perhaps this is the reason Jesus rose early and stole away for quiet time as often as he could. The scriptures also tell us that these moments were usually disrupted by those who desperately needed Jesus. The same is true of you and me. Today, will you join me in trying to respond as Jesus would? Let’s bring a bit of Jesus’ patience, concern and love to the mass of humanity out there!

Dear God, our world grows busier every day. Help me to respond to those caught in the midst this busyness as you would. Remind me to pray a bit, too.

©2019 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

We’re Never Alone…

As I watched, thrones were set up
and the Ancient One took his throne.
His clothing was snow bright,
and the hair on his head as white as wool…

From Daniel 7:9

Daniel’s imagery provides a fairly accurate picture of my earliest impressions of God. The adults around me did a very good job of convincing me of God’s love. Still, there was something about the Almighty’s powerful presence which gave me reason to pause. The earliest days of my relationship with God included some shyness and perhaps a bit of fear when it came to my own behavior and the things I dared and dared not to pray for.

The good news is that Daniel’s imagery also inspired my faith in God’s helpers, the archangels in particular. From the time I was a little child, I turned to Michael the Archangel when fearful people or fearful circumstances threatened. Though I was unsure of how all of this worked back then, I do recall finding great consolation under the Archangel’s watchful eye.

I’ve set aside the more cumbersome baggage from my childhood perceptions of God and faith and many other holy things. Still, I continue to turn to God, my loved ones in heaven and the Good Archangel Michael when those I love are in danger. Though I don’t expect him to draw a sword to take down their adversaries, I do believe that Michael is present just the same. Perhaps all that is required to make things right is a strong shoulder to lean on, even when we don’t realize that shoulder is there.

Loving God, thank you for you and for all of the holy ones, here and above, who guard us and guide us along the way. Most of all, thank you for being with us in everything.

©2019 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

How Will We Change The World?

Peace!… Do not be afraid!
Go and carry the news…

From Matthew 28:9-11

Though eighteen years have passed, I’ll never forget my whereabouts Tuesday morning, September 11, 2001…

I was driving to school when a report of an airliner crashing into the World Trade Center interrupted the local news. The assistant principal and I were discussing that horrific accident when the second assault in New York occurred. Fortunately, our students were all in the building by that time. When the Pentagon was hit, area schools were put in “lock-down” mode. Classroom teachers secured their doors and kept their students inside while the rest of us patrolled the hallways and saw to it that no unidentified individuals entered. Our school district served both local children and the children of military personnel assigned to the military installation just blocks away. Each of us prayed fervently that the base wouldn’t be the next target…

Though eighteen years have passed, I’ll never forget the heroic effort which unfolded by midday, September 11, 2001…

The morning’s devastation horrified us all, yet bravery and selflessness reigned. Uncommon generosity became the norm. Those nearby joined hands to do everything possible to care for those who’d been hurt. Many more did the same during the months and years that followed. This world has never been the same since that day…

I was convinced that nothing would change this world as dramatically as that infamous day did and I was wrong. The actions of those hijackers inspired subsequent assaults. The actions of those first responders and those who who continued their efforts for months and years afterward inspired selflessness and generosity beyond all of our expectations.

What will change the world around us today? It’s up to you and me…

Loving and Merciful God, give us hearts which desire peace and hands to build that peace wherever we are.

©2019 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

We Can Do It!

The Pharisees came forward and began to argue with Jesus.
They were looking for some heavenly sign from him as a test.

Mark 8:11

It’s never been easy for me to stand by and watch the suffering of those around me. Whether they are my own family members, dear friends, a street person or children brutalized half a world away, I find it impossible to accept that there is nothing I can do to help. It is in the midst of this frustration that I become like the Pharisees of old. They badgered Jesus for signs from above to legitimize his preaching. I find myself groaning as they did: “If only you would show yourself to those in power, they’d do something to fix this mess!” I realize that repairing this world is a multi-leveled task. It seems to me that a change of heart among the higher-ups and the rest of us would certainly help.

After behaving like a Pharisee and demanding God’s intervention, God remains in the quiet of my heart. God needs not to utter a single word because I already know the solution. God leaves it to each one of us to do the best we can as we see it. Whether we are a higher-up or one of the rest of us, each of us is charged with the responsibility to do the best we can to fix things. Each of us is also given the free will to opt in or to opt out of caring for others. God’s assistance comes from within our hearts and in the example of people of good will who urge us to bring love and peace to the moment at hand. Every time we respond, we will transform this world one loving act at a time.

Patient God, forgive my impatience with others and with You. Help me and all of us to do what we can to love those we have been given to love, here and everywhere.

©2019 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Thank You!

One of them, realizing that he had been cured,
came back praising God in a loud voice.

Luke 17:15

My sister Rita puts the “spirit” in “family spirit”. She’s consistently seen to it that we continue with family picnics and birthday celebrations. She reminds us when it’s been a little too long since we’ve gotten together. She also spent months compiling our written family history which was a truly painstaking, but much appreciated effort. All of this is amazing in light of Rita’s role in that history…

My dear sister is the eldest of us six siblings. She was only fifteen when our dad passed away. The rest of us were 14, 8, 6, 5 and 3. Since our mom had to go to work to support us, Rita assumed a good deal of responsibility for the rest of us. Looking back, I realize that this changed what might have been my sister’s carefree teens into a much more difficult experience. Much to her credit, Rita didn’t share in only our mom’s workload. She also shared in our mom’s efforts to keep our family’s “special occasions” special. Rita helped our mom to select and wrap our Christmas gifts. She also pitched in for our birthdays and Easter. As soon as she could, Rita began to use the few dollars she earned each week at her job to supplement our mom’s gifts to us.

The scripture passage I selected above is an excerpt from Luke’s account of the healing of the ten lepers. Though all were made whole, only one took the time to return to Jesus to thank him. In an effort not to repeat the mistake of the other nine lepers, we need to do the same. Thank you, Rita, for all you did for us!

Loving God, thank you for empowering us to enrich this life with our kindness and gratitude toward one another.

©2019 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved