Always In Good Company

“My children, I will be with you only a little while longer.”
John 13:33

While in Israel, I overheard two travelers from another group consoling one another over a friend who was unable to join them for their trip. The person who couldn’t travel with them had been ill and didn’t recover as quickly as they’d hoped. Because these three considered this trip to Israel to be a once-in-a-lifetime event, this turn of events anguished them all. The two who had made it consoled one another with their promise to pray at every holy place they visited for the person they’d unwillingly left behind. Their tone indicated that this illness might be their friend’s last.

As Holy Week approaches, I imagine conversations regarding Jesus’ situation among his friends. I suppose none of them were anxious to return to Jerusalem with so much uncertainty regarding Jesus’ work. Where would Jesus’ teaching take him? Where would it take them? Was Judas already expressing concern regarding all of this? Were the others happy to follow their teacher or were they struggling with worry as well?

Those fellow travelers found consolation in praying for their sick friend. She would be with them in spirit as they expressed their concern for her to God. The poor disciples weren’t as adept at prayer as those travelers who had to leave their friend behind. Though they had Jesus in their midst, they weren’t certain of what to make of his presence in their lives. Though they’d witnessed so much, they’re weren’t privy to The Big Picture.

These days, I find myself in the shoes of the uncertain disciples. Like them, I sometimes wonder what will come next. It is then that I focus on The Big Picture. It is then that I remind myself that God is with us all regardless of where this journey with COVID-19 takes us next.

Loving God, help me to be patient with others and with myself as we puzzle over all of this. Help us to remember that you are with us though it all.

©2020 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Dance for Joy!

As I continue my journey through Advent 2019, I renew my resolve to bring a bit of Christmas to every day. While trying to do my best in this regard, images of dance in many forms fill me up. My dear husband and I attended some very special weddings this past fall. We recently received a link which allows us to view photos from one of them. While Mike and I enjoyed them all, I most liked the photos which captured guests on the dance floor. Though I’m not at all a good dancer, my feet take over when I’m happy and I dance. Our granddaughters’ first response to joy is to dance. They dance after a good soccer move, when opening birthday gifts and when allowed special outings with their friends. Our grandsons dance when we agree to watch Charlie Brown’s Christmas for the umpteenth time. I must admit that they come by this propensity quite naturally as their parents are great dancers. I think our grandchildren are onto something when they throw themselves into moments of joy like these. I think we’re onto something as well when we embrace the joy that comes our way with enthusiasm.

Last Sunday’s scripture passages pointed to the difficulties which threatened Jesus’ loved ones. Fortunately, they responded as best they could to make the most of their situations. Today’s passages offer frequent references to joy, joy that is powerful enough to elicit a dance. In the first reading (Isaiah 1:1-10), Isaiah describes the day when one will come who is filled with the spirit of the Lord, “…a spirit of wisdom and of understanding, a spirit of counsel and of strength.” This one will embody these things so perfectly that he will transform this wretched world into God’s holy mountain, a second Eden where peace and joy reign over everything. How wonderful it would be to enjoy just one day in such a place!

In the gospel (Matthew 3:1-12), John the Baptist emerged from the desert after praying, contemplating and making Isaiah’s message his own. John’s enthusiasm and passion were great and people in a variety of circumstances came to listen and to be baptized by him. Even some Pharisees and Sadducees sought John’s baptism. Perhaps they worried that John spoke the truth regarding the one who was to come. What a joy it would be to share John’s certainty! In his letter to the Romans (Romans 15:4-9), Paul encouraged his followers to recognize that Jesus personifies everything which Isaiah’s and John’s audiences hoped for. Paul pointed out that we who have seen, heard and touched Jesus for ourselves have no choice but to rejoice. What a difference it would make in our lives if you and I fully embraced what Jesus has to offer!

It was just two weeks ago on the Feast of Jesus Christ, King of the Universe, that we focused upon Jesus’ last moments. Though this observance is meant to be a celebration, there wasn’t must to dance about as we listened. The gospel told us that the day darkened and Jesus’ life began to slip away. Still, Jesus offered God’s peace and everlasting joy to a most unlikely recipient. While passersby jeered at Jesus and one of the criminals who hung with him demanded to be saved, Jesus’ second companion in death simply asked for mercy. Overcome with love, Jesus dismissed his own suffering to dance the dance of compassion. Jesus offered this criminal ultimate joy and his own dance into eternity. Apparently, there is always reason to be found to dance.

I know that it’s unlikely that Isaiah and Paul, the apostles and the man crucified next to Jesus danced their way to many places in this life. Though Jesus knew the outcome of his work, it’s unlikely that he danced his way to find breakfast each morning and then on toward the waiting crowds. Though I dance with our grandchildren every time Grandpa and I visit them, I don’t physically dance my way to the grocery store or the gas station or to anywhere else my errands take me. I don’t even dance into church for Mass each week. Yet, like the man on the cross who asked Jesus to remember him, Isaiah and Paul, the apostles, you and I have reason to dance.

Jesus’ love impelled him to respond to someone in need regardless of his own suffering, The love that we have come to know impels us to dance the dance of love as well. We respond to the imperfections of this life just as Jesus did. We find the courage to dismiss our own worries long enough to turn to those who need us. This Advent and always, we do our best to be like Jesus. Though our legs may not move in choreographed fashion, our hearts dance the dance of with love.

©2019 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Have A Little Faith!

A few weeks ago, friends shared that they hope to travel to Alaska one day. Now I’m not the travel aficionado that my dear husband is. Nonetheless, six years ago, we traveled to Alaska in celebration of a milestone wedding anniversary. That trip evolved into an amazing adventure and I couldn’t help encouraging our friends to visit Alaska as soon as they can. “If there’s time, include a stop at Icy Straight Point,” I told them. “You can go zip riding there!” Our friends didn’t seem particularly interested in that bit of information. As for me, just this mention of my zip riding experience filled me with excitement. Not long after that conversation, I pulled out our Alaska photo album. I wanted to bask a little longer in the wonder I’d found in our Forty-ninth State.

When I opened the album, I recalled my reluctance the morning we left. Though we’d flown long distances before, I’d worried extensively in anticipation of our departure. After the flight, we’d board a cruise ship. This was our first cruise and I had no idea of what to expect. I worried about forgetting our passports. I worried about having packed appropriate clothing and I worried that the weather forecasts might be inaccurate. I worried about our excursions. Would we enjoy them all? I worried about seasickness because I’d never been on a ship before. Most of all, I worried about that first excursion: zip riding from a mountainside over the trees in Icy Straight Point.

I admit that I looked through our album twice that day. Both times, I lingered over a photo we’d purchased after zip riding. I recalled our sons’ amazement that we’d signed up for that adventure. They asked me several times if I was sure I wanted to do this. Our sons know their parents well. Their dad is a great fan of roller coasters and their mom is not. Though Mike enjoys flying anywhere, I don’t. I’m not a fan of heights and this completely out-of-character adventure would take me more than one thousand feet above ground for a mile-long ride. I would travel well above Alaska’s tallest treetops. Still, I felt called to embrace this adventure. When Mike joined our sons in questioning the wisdom of doing so, I assured him that I really, really had to do this.

As I stared at that photo, I remembered those anxious minutes just prior to sailing over those trees. We’d found our places and strapped ourselves into something like adult-sized baby swings. The man who would release us into the air checked every seatbelt. When he was certain that all was well, he announced, “Here you go!” With that, the gates before us dropped and we sailed –No, we sped!- down the mountainside over a forest. I remembered my amazement over just how high we were. I looked over the trees and onto the inlet where our cruise ship rested. I clearly recall letting go of that swing and extending my arms as far as they’d reach. As I stared at that photo, I repeated something similar to what I’d shouted six years earlier, “Thank you, God! Thank you so much! That really was awesome!” That day, I knew that I was nestled in the strongest and gentlest of hands. I’d also shared in one of God’s best kept secrets. I’d discovered why God keeps such diligent watch over Creation. There is nothing more beautiful! I also felt closer to God than ever. Was this the reason I simply had to go zip riding that day?

When I turned to today’s scripture readings, I found a trio of answers to my question. The readings from Habakkuk (1:2-3; 2:2-4), 2 Timothy (1:6-8, 13-14) and Luke (17:5-10) speak of the things which fuel our faith in God. Habakkuk complained that his life and the world around him were complete disasters. God responded by instructing Habakkuk to revisit his dreams because his dreams would be fulfilled. In the letter to Timothy, this young man is encouraged to hold tightly to his faith because he would find God in the end. In the gospel, Jesus summarized everything. He told his friends that faith as tiny as a mustard seed is capable of ordering a tree to uproot itself from the ground and to replant itself in the sea. Jesus explained that having faith doesn’t mean that this life will unfold perfectly. However, Jesus does say that if we have faith we can somehow make things happen the way we’d like them to happen. Having faith means that we do what we do because we truly believe that we can make a difference. Faith assures us that we will find peace and absolute joy with God here and in the hereafter.

You know, I would have missed a life-changing experience if I hadn’t climbed onto that zip rider and opened myself to what God had in store for me. That leap of faith exemplified precisely what God asks of us. God knows better than we do the difficulties of life on this earth. Still, God extends an encouraging hand and urges us on. All the while, God assures us that, when we embrace the moment, the hour, the day and the lifetime that lie before us, God will be with us all the while. This is what faith is all about, even faith as small as a mustard seed!

©2019 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

V… Vision!

Look to God that you may be radiant with joy…
From Psalm 34:6

V is for Vision. The vision of which I write has nothing to do with my ability to see the world around me. The vision to which I refer is that internal sense of direction which guides us when all else fails. I’ve weathered some difficult storms and losses in my own life. Still, these things pale in the shadow of the suffering others endure. I can’t help being amazed as those around me cope. Though situation after situation promises the same, these mighty souls endure. They proceed with hope and grace because of their vision of the God who loves them and remains with them always.

My own experience tells me that each incidence of suffering I’ve experienced has morphed into triumph because of my vision of God’s presence within me. Though I saw only suffering on the surface, I looked further to see God’s loving presence throughout it all. Those who have shared their stories with me are absolutely convinced that they’ve survived every sort of malady unscathed because they remained focused upon God all the while.

V is for Vision, our vision of our Ever-loving, Ever-merciful and Ever-caring God who walks with us and loves us through everything. Even when that vision is blurred by our tears, we see God around us and within us through it all.

Loving God, thank you for remaining with us in everything.

©2019 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

T… Thankfulness!

Give thanks to God, for God is good,
and God’s mercy endures forever.

Psalm 136:1

T is for Thankfulness. I know I’ve made it abundantly clear in one way or another that life isn’t always perfect for me. Still, I have so much to be thankful for, far more than I ever expected or dared to hope for! The most precious of these gifts aren’t tangible, but they are very real to me just the same. Yes, I am a very blessed soul!

Though I lapsed in reciting my favorite morning prayer for some weeks, I’ve reinstated this practice. Regardless of what the coming day may hold for me, I open my eyes while whispering “Thanks for the sleep!” God knows that these four words express both my gratitude for the rest I enjoyed and my anticipation of many opportunities to offer thanks during the coming twenty-four hours. Though I’ve occasionally forgotten to pray, “Thank you, God”, our benevolent Creator has never forgotten me.

When this life presents unpleasant challenges, I face them most effectively with a grateful heart. I hope God never tires of hearing me pray, “God, I know you have been very good to me, but really? I don’t mean to complain, but how can I deal with this?” It usually takes me a few minutes to adjust my thinking and my prayer. I continue, “Thank you, God, for being with me in everything. I know that all of this will end well. Then, I roll up my sleeves, take a deep breath and do the best I can.

T is for Thankfulness. Today and every day, I will do my best to face everything with a heart full of thankfulness!

Generous God, thank you for everything!

©2019 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

No Doubt…

“You may go; your son will live.”
The man believed what Jesus said to him and left.

John 4:50

I’ve spent my entire life worrying about sick loved ones and I admit that it has taken me a lifetime to imitate the man about whom John wrote. I must also admit that I’ve succeeded only some of the time…

The man who approached Jesus on behalf of his dying son was a royal official. He was likely quite used to having his every need met without question. When his child lay dying, he certainly tapped every resource at his disposal to find a cure. In spite of his powerful position, when all else failed, he went to Jesus for help. Something he’d heard or seen encouraged him to do this. When Jesus instructed him to go home because his son was recovering, because the man believed, he went home. John tells us this man wasn’t disappointed.

I’m not sure of what this royal official learned about Jesus before he approached him for help. I am quite certain that this man knew only a tiny fraction of what we’ve come to know about Jesus and God’s love for us in the two millenniums since. Still, in the face of this contemplation and proof of God’s love in more than a billion lifetimes, we doubt.

Earlier this Lent, I wrote about healing, our efforts to heal ourselves and to heal one another. It seems to me that we’ll do our best work in this regard when we ask God to be a part of our work. Like that royal official, we won’t be disappointed.

Loving God, help us to embrace your healing and to share it with one another.

©2019 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved