God Already Knows

I call upon you because you will answer me, O God.
You turn your ear to me and you hear my every word.

Psalm 17:6

When a friend requested prayers for an ailing family member, I promised to storm heaven on their loved ones behalf. Though I believe we always have God’s attention, I also think that adding our own positive energy to the mix is helpful. Much to my dismay, I’m sometimes lacking in that positive energy as of late. I’m as tired as everyone else of our current uncertainty regarding COVID-19 and my heart aches over the injustices which plague our nation. Most of all, I’m frustrated over my inability to change any of this. As I struggled to voice the prayer my friend requested and my own regarding these other issues, my words failed me. After several uncomfortable minutes, it occurred to me that I need to heed my own advice.

Whenever I’m asked about prayer, I encourage those interested to speak to God in their own words. If the words don’t come, I suggest that they sit quietly and simply accept the fact that God understands. If they feel that they must say something, I add, “When in doubt, go to the psalms. There’s a psalm for anything and everything we can’t seem to put into words for ourselves.”

After taking a few minutes to laugh at myself over my inability to practice what I preach, I turned to the Book of Psalms and found the words I cite above. I happily rediscovered that there is a psalm for every occasion under heaven. I also happily reminded myself that God knows every detail of my reasons for praying in the first place. With that, I sat in God’s company quite peacefully. You see, I finally acknowledged that God already knew what I was trying to say.

Dear God, thank you for your understanding. It means everything to me!

©2020 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Love In Action

Suppose someone is without clothes and daily food.
If you say, “Go in peace; keep warm and well fed,”
but do nothing about their physical needs, what good is it?

From James 2:15-17

My recent commitment to exchange my worry for action has urged me into “do something” mode. The amazing people God has given me to love add to the mix as they are constant reminders that each of us is gifted in unique ways. As for me, I’m also a constant reminder to myself and to others that we’re also burdened with our personal varieties of frailties. Still, God has placed this world in our hands. It seems to me that this is no empty gesture on God’s part. God created us in God’s own image and likeness. God knows better than we do just how capable we are.

So it is that I’m challenging myself (and anyone who cares to join me) in setting aside our worry regarding the woes which trouble humankind these days, in particular, the COVID-19 pandemic. After praying with great fervor for our entire world, let’s look a bit closer to home. Is there something in our communities, our neighborhoods, our schools, our temples, our churches, our workplaces, our organizations or in our own homes which needs attention? If there is, please join me in asking, “Is there something I can do to help?” Don’t discount even the smallest opportunity to do good. I’m convinced that your efforts and mine will make a difference somewhere to someone every time.

Caring God, help us to love and to care for one another as you care for us.

©2020 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Walk With Jesus

I use the calendar on my desk to track my writing efforts. When I complete my Sunday reflections or a daily post, I make a notation on the date it will be published. A calendar page filled with such notations from the first to the last day of the month elicits my best smile and a sigh of relief. I truly enjoy writing, but time crunches often bring more challenges than inspiration. This is the reason my calendar gave me reason to gasp last week. Without warning, the dates changed from green to purple. When I looked more closely, I read Ash Wednesday. I was very much aware of the onset of Lent. I’d helped to plan our Lent activities with our pastor and our liturgy team. I’d also helped to finalize Lent schedule cards we distributed last weekend. Yes, I was very much aware of the onset of Lent. Still, Ash Wednesday? So soon?

I habitually give a good deal of thought to Lent. This year, I began thinking about Lent in mid-January when my husband and I returned to the Holy Land. Our trip preparations had immersed me in Lent. When I studied our itinerary, Jesus’ life unfolded before me. When we disembarked from our plane at the airport in Tel Aviv, the wonders which lay beyond the terminal had already captivated me. While Mike hurried to luggage claim with our tour group, I began a mental journey through Jesus’ homeland. We began this tour in Jerusalem and I was immediately immersed in Lent’s imagery. Though I looked forward to revisiting Nazareth, Capernaum and Magdala, it was the hustle and bustle in Jerusalem which occupied my thoughts. When Jesus rode into that city on what we call Palm Sunday, crowds surrounded him from every direction. By the following Friday, many of those hurrying to get home before Sabbath began likely didn’t take notice. They were too busy to attend to the bleeding man who carried that crossbeam. Crucifixions were frequent in Jesus’ day. Wise citizens who wanted to avoid trouble kept their distance when those less fortunate dragged themselves toward Calvary and certain death.

Though scripture scholars and archaeologists aren’t absolutely certain of Jesus’ birthplace, they can tell us where he grew up and where he began his ministry. We can name the towns where Jesus made friends, preached and touched the suffering. In Jerusalem, I wondered how Jesus was able to hold the people’s attention in the midst of the bustling crowds. In Capernaum, I wondered what it was that drew Peter and Andrew from their fishing boats. In Magdala, what was it that inspired Mary Magdalene to trust this itinerant preacher with her friendship? Everywhere Jesus walked, something drew the suffering from their pain just long enough for them to catch a glimpse of him. All of my life, I’ve asked, “What was it, Jesus, that caused so many to turn to you?” Every Lent, I revisit Jesus’ journey among us to find his response. Never have I been disappointed in what I’ve learned…

Lent 2020 provides us an opportunity to walk with Jesus and to find our own reasons for turning to him. I’ll begin by telling Jesus what I’m up to. “You’ve changed everything for me,” I’ll say, “and I’m going to use these forty days to thank you. In the process, I’ll get to know you even better.” How can I not be drawn to this one who revealed God’s love for us through the parables and lessons he offered? How can I not be drawn to this one whose message found its power in the way he lived? Jesus’ generosity, acceptance, forgiveness, patience, compassion and self-sacrifice left no doubt about God’s love for us and the joy to be found in sharing that love with others. Over the course of my life, I’ve discovered that the intensity of my joy and the depth of my sorrow are the direct results of my proximity to Jesus’ message and to God’s love. When I live with Jesus’ words and example in mind, I live my best. When I live with the knowledge that God loves me, I live with joy. I’m certain the same is true for you.

Let’s walk together on this Lenten journey. We can begin each day by inviting Jesus to walk with us just as we do our best to walk with him. Think about all that happened in Nazareth, Capernaum and on the Sea of Galilee. Think about Jesus’ suffering in Jerusalem. With all of this in mind, let’s do our best to love as Jesus loved at every opportunity. Maybe my husband and I can fill the Rice Bowl we took home to support the needy. Maybe we can join in supporting our recent mission appeal. Check your schedule. Do you have the time to pray and to do a bit of of good over the coming weeks? I’ll use that calendar on my desk to keep myself focused, not on my writing progress, but on my loving progress. My husband and I will look for Jesus in our photos from the Holy Land. Let’s all look for Jesus in those God has given us to love. This Lent, I really will get to know Jesus better and so will you!

©2020 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

God With Us… ALWAYS!

Give me back the joy of your salvation,
and a willing spirit sustain in me.

Psalm 51:14

I’m grateful for those who read my work. Though I’m usually unsure of what will result when I sit at my keyboard, I write with purpose and with conviction. For some reason, I feel that this is what I’m meant to do. Sometimes, I feel that this is more God’s idea than my own.

I’ve spent a lifetime sorting out my experiences of God. I’m awed by God’s enduring presence, mercy and love. These gifts remain consistent regardless of the issues I may deal with at one time or another with my faith, my Church, my loved ones, my not-so-loved ones, my situation, myself… You get the idea. My point is that God never abandons us. Regardless of the mess we may make of things at a given point in time, God’s love remains. When I find myself feeling unlike one of God’s children, I echo the psalmist’s words cited above. I acknowledge my frailty and I ask God to take over for me for as long as needed.

I write about these things because we all struggle at one time or another. I find peace in my ability to offer a bit of peace to another suffering soul. Because their discouragement touches my human heart deeply, I become more convinced than ever of how lovingly and encouragingly God listens and suffers with us.

When our troubles are too heavy to carry alone, we simply have to turn them over to God.

Loving and Merciful God, touch the aching hearts of those who need you. Remind us that you are with us in everything.

©2020 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

U… Unity

If a house is divided against itself,
that house will not be able to stand.

Mark 3:25

U is for Unity. I’ve just returned from a dear friend’s wake. My friend’s family and circle of friends is large and I joined numerous others in offering my support. The many photos displayed indicated that the people she loved and loves are as varied as our human family can be. As I waited to offer my condolences to her husband and sons, I watched their interactions with those ahead of me. Tears flowed freely and smiles were exchanged generously as they consoled those who’d come to support them. It occurred to me as I watched that none of us is perfect. Yet, when it mattered most, this heartbroken family offered their best to every person who came to mourn with them. U is for Unity and this evening we were one in our sorrow.

It seems to me that this should be true wherever we find ourselves. Regardless of the circumstances, we need to see one another as God’s child. We need to love one another as we love ourselves. We need to open our eyes, our minds and our hearts to better understand perspectives which sometimes differ from our own. We need to set aside non-essential details and focus upon the most essential needs of all of our human family and of this world. U is for Unity and this should be especially true of God’s family.

As I imagine my friend enjoying her new home in heaven, I hear her saying, “That’s right, Mary! Now you get it! God has breathed life into billions of children and God loves each one us. God’s only request is that we learn to get along.” My heaven-born friend built community wherever she was quite masterfully. Today, I’m going to try to do the same. Yes, U is for Unity, and I need to do my part to make this a reality when it comes to loving my fellow humans.

Dear God, you love each one of us. Help us to love each other as you do.

©2020 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

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