Nestle In God’s Embrace

Every morning, I set the tone for the day by reading from a daily devotional. My favorite features dozens of writers. Each contributes six or seven of the reflections which appear throughout the book. Regardless of the author of the day, I’m consistently touched by the morsels of wisdom nestled among his or her words. Whether or not the story which unfolds appeals to me, the author’s intent always manages to touch my heart. Some mornings, I add favorite passages from Henri Nouwen and Max Lucado. I’m most grateful for their generosity in sharing their deeply personal relationships with God with the rest of us. As I struggle to do the same through my own book, my admiration for these writers continues to grow exponentially.

After I opened my devotional this morning, I returned to this writing. Because I completed my research yesterday, I planned to write all of this fairly quickly. That was until the pile of notes resting next to me spilled over onto my keyboard. I had to re-stack them before I could type another word. In the process, I found a small sticky note which read, “Nestle, Don’t Wrestle”. I laughed as I recalled this old phrase. Long ago, I’d read about someone who’d hoped to write a book about our struggles throughout this life and our propensity to ignore the precise solution to all of our problems. This woman intended to title the book, Nestle, Don’t Wrestle. She’d hoped that her text would convince all of the world that we must stop wrestling with God and insisting that God solve our problems our way. I laughed again as I admitted to myself that I’m guilty of just that.

Of course, I couldn’t let go of this concept of nestling in God’s care rather than wrestling alone with life’s challenges. I wondered if the person I’d read about had actually written her book. After searching online for some time, I realized that this potential author had likely not realized her dream. I found no books of that title anywhere. What I did find was Corrie ten Boom’s DON’T WRESTLE, JUST NESTLE* which was published long before the person I’d read about had voiced her dream. Still, the titles were so similar that I had to learn more. I discovered that Corrie ten Boom’s book is still available and that it can also be downloaded for free. I also found several short reviews which indicated that this book had indeed offered the same advice which that potential author had hoped to share years later. That advice? To take God at God’s word and to place our troubles into God’s capable hands. This frees us to embrace the moments at hand with hope. Corrie ten Boom and her family lived in The Netherlands. When the German Army invaded her country, she turned her home into a hideout where she protected many Jewish people. As a result, she and her family were arrested and imprisoned in a concentration camp where her sister died. In spite of this heart-wrenching experience, Corrie’s absolute hope in God’s care remained. As I read on, I discovered that Corrie’s relationship with God was steadfast throughout this suffering and her lifelong efforts to speak out about God’s love and forgiveness and our need to forgive.

So many scripture passages echo God’s invitation to us all to nestle and not to wrestle our way through this life alone! Isaiah (Isaiah 66:10-14c) tells us. “…you shall be carried in her arms, …as a mother comforts her child, so I will comfort you…” God promises to carry each one of us through everything. We mustn’t waste our energy wrestling with our problems alone. We mustn’t wrestle with God to convince God to do things our way. Rather, we must ease into God’s arms with all of our problems in tow. When we hand the things which trouble us over to God, we free ourselves to enjoy the peace that only God’s embrace can offer. In his letter to the Galatians (6:14-18), Paul expounds upon the peace he found when he opened himself up to Jesus. Paul had persecuted and killed hundreds of Jesus’ followers because they’d moved beyond The Law. The Law was part and parcel of their Jewish identity, yet many of the people had embraced the teachings of Jesus as well. After meeting Jesus himself in an astonishing post-resurrection encounter, Paul realized that our acknowledgement of God’s love for us and our need to love one another were what truly mattered. With that, Paul took in all that Jesus had taught and he made Jesus’ mission his own. Luke’s gospel (Luke 10:1-12, 17-20) tells us that Jesus had spread his teaching by sending out seventy-two disciples two-by-two. He asked them to set aside their own concerns and their own lives in order to share God’s hope and enduring love with those who hadn’t yet heard of these things. Jesus sent them on their way to offer God’s message with the hope that it would take root within others who would go on to share his word and to live accordingly.

As I consider my “on paper” acquaintance with both my would-be author friend and Corrie ten Boom, I wonder if they realize just how far-reaching their sharing of their relationships with God has been. Though that would-be author may never have written a word beyond her title, she certainly added a spark to my relationship with God. Corrie ten Boom endured far more suffering than most of us ever will, yet she insisted that we nestle in God’s loving care. Corrie added to that spark between God and me as well! It seems to me that we’re all called to spread the good news of God’s love for us. Whether we travel two-by-two or go it alone, each of us is invited to believe for ourselves and to share with all who will hear us that there is a place in God’s arms for every one of us.

©2019 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

*Corrie ten Boom. Don’t Wrestle, Just Nestle. Published January 1, 1979 by Fleming H Revell Co (first published 1978)

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Healers Are We…

You are refuge for the poor,
a refuge to the needy in distress;
shelter from the rain and
shelter from the desert heat.

Isaiah 25:4

On this second day of Lent, I’m determined to keep my promise to bring healing to this world. My loved ones nearby and those God asks me to love on the other side of this world are in need of healing in some way. So it is that I’ll do my best to embrace every opportunity to heal.

This morning, I set aside a few minutes to consider how to proceed. Though I won’t be traveling to the suffering across the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans, I can do without a few things to contribute to our annual Lenten Rice Bowl effort for them. It’s my effort closer to home which causes me to be fidgety and uncomfortable. How can I heal the aching hearts around me? How can I heal myself? Like a shy child, I look upward in spite of my certainty that God resides within me. Like a shy child, I’m afraid to ask what God might expect of me. I’m making my simple commitment far too complicated.

After sitting for some minutes, fumbling for the courage to proceed, I finally settled down. As it happened, God nudged me into action as God always does. Encouragement came in the sunshine beyond my window which rested its warmth on me. God seemed to say, “Don’t be afraid, Mary. Just be yourself and be there for others. That’s good enough for me and it will be good enough for them. Healing will come!”

Dear God, who am I to question your faith in me? I will be there for others as only I can.

©2019 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

I’ll Always Remember…

This week’s calendar includes a chilling anniversary which I’d like to forget. I still shiver a bit whenever I hear “911”. Whether in reference to an emergency call to the rescue squad or to the day which changed our lives forever seventeen years ago, I’ll never free my memory of the images those numbers elicit. Like many of you, I know exactly where I was when news of that airliner’s crash into the World Trade spread over the airways. I was filling my empty gas tank. By the time the second assault occurred, I’d arrived at my workplace, a school filled with local students and the children of United States Navy personnel.

I’ve never felt as helpless as I did that day. No one knew what would follow. I wondered what we would tell these children if the Great Lakes Naval Training Station was the target of a third or fourth or fifth assault. How could we protect these children if an explosion sent flying debris as far as the school building we occupied? At the end of the day, would we be able to house and feed and console these potential orphans? After I reviewed the building’s disaster plan, I played and replayed possible scenarios in my mind. The principal used a prearranged code to alert the staff that the building was on lockdown. There would be no outdoor recess and no solo trips throughout the building until further notice. Since I was a reading teacher who pulled children from other classrooms, I had no class of my own. That day, other support staff and I were assigned to walk the halls, to make certain that every door to the outside was securely locked and to allow no strangers into the building. During these rounds, I stopped in the office often to check the news, hoping against hope that a freak accident, rather than intense hatred, would explain what had occurred.

As I considered the gravity of the situation, Jeremy, a former student, tapped me on the hand. He was standing in line with his classmates. “Mrs. Penich, look what I got.” As the second grader pulled a picture from his pocket, he told me, “I know who she is. She’s God’s mom. I learned about her at church. You can have it.” I was so stunned by all that had happened that day that it took me a few minutes to absorb what Jeremy had said. When I realized that I hadn’t thanked him for the beautiful holy card, I followed his class down the hall to do just that. Afterward, I turned the card over and found my favorite prayer to Mary, The Memorare. Whenever I’d been in a seemingly desperate situation, this prayer had carried me through. What an amazing coincidence that Jeremy would gift me with this reminder to hope when things seemed more desperate than ever. I still have that holy card…

In the end, there was no third, fourth or fifth attack. Thank heaven for the brave group of airline passengers who responded to “Let’s roll” in an effort to keep their plane from doing more damage. Our school wasn’t pelted with flying debris that day and our students returned home to their parents that evening. Families remained intact at least for a while.

Though September 11, 2001, continues to be a source of sorrow over what was lost that day, it is also a source of gratitude over what was gained. In the face of the epitome of human evil, the epitome of human goodness stood tall. Do you remember the hundreds of human interest stories regarding Good Samaritans during the weeks and months afterward? I never grew tired of hearing them. What a miracle it was to watch the goodness of humankind cast a shadow on evil, even if for just a little while…

In today’s first reading from Isaiah (Isaiah 35:4-7a), the prophet tells us that we must “Be strong, and fear not!” Regardless of the disasters which befall God’s people, we and this world of ours will be replenished, refreshed and made new once again. If this isn’t enough, Mark’s gospel (Mark 7:31-37) follows with Jesus’ response to calamity. Once again, Jesus stunned those who followed him with his gift of renewed life. This time, the recipient was a deaf man who’s difference had isolated him from life within his community. When Jesus cured him, the man’s life truly began anew.

An immeasurable amount of renewal took place during the months after September 11, 2001. I cringe over the additional devastation which has occurred in the years-long aftermath. Still, I find consolation in the outpouring after these incidents. Though these selfless deeds seem less dramatic than what was accomplished in 2001, the renewal experienced by victims is equally poignant. I’ve decided to observe September 11, 2018, by remembering. I’ll remember Isaiah’s insistence to be strong. I’ll remember Jesus’ example of renewing others by responding wherever I’m needed. I’ll remember my own fear from that fateful day and I’ll sow seeds of peace wherever I go. I’ll remember that, in spite of our disagreements on so many levels, we can always come together to do good.

©2018 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Waiting Peacefully

This Second Sunday of Advent, we begin our liturgy with the lighting of two candles on our Advent Wreath. Last weekend’s candle invited us to renew our hope by acknowledging God’s promising presence among us. Though this is the season of waiting, just as God’s people awaited the Messiah, we cannot help celebrating that arrival in the moments at hand. This week’s candle draws us in from December’s cold and that of our weary world. Its flame lights our way back to God who promises us all that we will ever need. It’s light draws us into the glow of God’s peace.

On the First Sunday of Advent, I lamented with Isaiah over the many imperfections of this life. I joined him in questioning God’s wisdom in allowing us the freedom to do what we wish. After all, we don’t always choose what’s best for ourselves or for those we’ve been given to love. Fortunately, I joined Isaiah in coming to one additional important realization: Along with the gift of freedom, God offers us the gift of good counsel. Isaiah put it perfectly when he prayed, “O Lord, you are our father; we are the clay and you are the potter: we are the work of your hands.” Upon hearing those words, I promised myself that I would hold onto that image throughout Advent. What more can I ask than to have God’s hands wrapped gently around me, molding my rough edges into the person God knows I can be?

This past week, that image transformed potentially trying moments into joyful encounters. Tasks which might have overwhelmed me became memories in the making. My dear husband and I decorated for Christmas with the bows and beads, lights and ornaments we’ve gathered over the years. Each one inspired gratitude for blessings received and tragedies overcome. Though I cannot know what the next few decades will bring, I expect only more of the same because this is what God has taught me to do. As for this coming week, let’s turn to Isaiah once again for inspiration…

In today’s first reading (Isaiah 40:1-5; 9-11), the prophet heralds the onset of new times for his people. Isaiah rejoices because God’s passionate love has not run out. God is the shepherd who “…feeds his flock; in his arms he gathers the lambs, carrying them in his bosom.” While I found great solace in the image of myself as clay in God’s hand, I find greater peace in seeing myself as a lamb in God’s arms. God can certainly work miracles by molding my imperfections away. Still, how much more God can do with me when I’m drawn into God’s arms! What more might I become as my head rests against God’s chest so close to God’s heart?

This image evokes both a chill and remarkable peace. Resting in God’s arms is a welcome retreat. Yet I must consider the consequences. Once I allow myself to be in such close proximity to my God, I might never be able to pull myself away. I might never again be able to experience the things of this world in quite the same way. I might always be distracted by God’s beating heart, always looking toward something greater than this world has to offer. It occurs to me that I must thank Isaiah in my prayer today for revealing another facet of God’s love. How attuned Isaiah must have been to our loving Creator, for he describes God’s love most eloquently.

The flickering flames of our Advent Wreath’s candles beckon me once again. Though my thoughts unexpectedly return to all I hope to accomplish by Christmas, those flickering flames plead for my attention. I imagine myself to be the tiny lamb whom Isaiah sees in God’s arms. Suddenly, the tasks which await me at home and here at my parish seem less daunting. Suddenly, I find myself impelled to do what I must to share the peace I experience in God’s arms. Perhaps I can imitate Isaiah’s generosity by sharing Christmas Peace a few weeks early.

Inspired as I am by Isaiah’s peaceful image of you and me in God’s embrace, I acknowledge that not one of our lives is a series of perfect Hallmark Moments. Still, I can’t help sharing Isaiah’s conviction that you and I can transform those imperfections into something better if we choose to do so. How can we waste our time lamenting when we’re rapt in God’s peace? This coming week, will you join me in making this your Advent Prayer?

Loving God, I am the tiny lamb at rest in your arms. Hold me close to your heart that I may learn to love as you love. Let me see with your eyes, let me listen with your ears and let me touch every moment with your peace. Be with me as I embrace every day with the peace of Christmas. Amen.

©2017 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Our Ever-Attentive God of Hope

We begin December with an ever-increasing list of demands. I find myself tackling the tasks at hand from the time I awake each morning to the time I retire each night. Though I thought I’d begun to prepare for Christmas earlier than usual, I suddenly find myself behind schedule. I was extremely excited to have completed this week’s reflections early only to realize that writing for the rest of December will be a challenge. Still, in spite of all that there is to do, I’ve decided not to allow this pre-Christmas frenzy to get the best of me. Rather, I’m going to take a deep breath and to approach all that lies ahead one step at a time. Will you join me in slowing down just long enough to attend very closely to all that we encounter this First Sunday of Advent?

As I enter church, our Advent Wreath catches my eye. Purple and pink bows mark the candles which call our attention to the four weeks ahead. The green accents which marked the hope of Ordinary Time have given way to purple. With that hope intact, we watch as Advent’s violet hues beckon us to embrace the passionate sentiments of the weeks to come. Through the scripture readings, we will retrace the steps of the Israelites who cried out to God in their misery and who received God’s comfort in response over and over again. Our hymns call us to wake up and to prepare. We search our hearts and adjust our priorities to make room for God to dwell among us and within us. Today, even our most familiar prayers demand our attention. Advent 2017 challenges us to invite God into every aspect of our lives. Finally, I realize that I’m actually most grateful for December’s arrival. Advent has given me reason to slow down, at least while I’m in church, and to remember that I’m not alone in enduring the trials and tribulations of this life. For as long as God’s children have walked the earth, life among us has been difficult at best.

The pain we experience when our circumstances run amok is as ancient as the scriptures. The prophet we call “Third Isaiah” speaks from his own intense suffering (Isaiah 63:16-17; 64:2-7). In spite of the effort he puts into his relationship with God, Isaiah fills up with anger and doubt. He fumes over the Israelites’ continued unfaithfulness to God. He simply cannot stand by and watch their evildoing any longer. Isaiah fumes even more vigorously at the Lord God who seems content to step back and observe as the people engage in their iniquity. Isaiah glares heavenward and asks, “Why do you let us wander, O Lord, from your ways, and harden our hearts so that we fear you not?” In the face of the many personal and societal ills which besiege us all these days, you and I may be inclined to pose the same question to our ever-patient God. I admit to turning my eyes heavenward far too often to ask, “If you don’t want things to be this way, why don’t you fix them?” Fortunately, Isaiah moves past his anger and uncertainty toward God. In the depths of his heart, Isaiah realizes that God has been listening all the while. He and the rest of God’s people have never been alone in their misery. Finally, Isaiah prays, “O Lord, you are our father; we are the clay and you are the potter: we are the work of your hands.” Finally, Isaiah understands that, because we are the most beloved work of God’s hands, God remains with us in everything. Truly, God will be with us all regardless of what lies ahead.

This First Sunday of Advent, we gather around God’s family table where we’re reminded that we’re in the best of company as we make our way to Christmas. Just as God was present in the best and worst of Israel’s history, God is present in the midst of our personal histories as well. Just as God placed Isaiah in the middle of Israel’s troubles to improve things as best he could, God places you and me in the middle of this world’s troubles to do the same.

It occurs to me that your and my Advent To-do Lists are actually Advent Opportunity Lists. Whether we find ourselves on the arm of our elderly parent or of our unyielding child, whether we suffer with an impossible job or an endless job search, whether we are sick in body or sick in spirit, whether we long for peace in this world or peace in our own hearts, each of us struggles to find our way, one moment at a time. It is during the difficult times that we must imitate Isaiah by acknowledging God’s presence. We must remember Isaiah’s prayer to the Potter who created us for these very moments. When we open our eyes and our hearts to God who knows our troubles better than we know them ourselves, we will somehow manage the tasks before us. These moments of grace in which we find God at are sides are what we prepare us for Christmas 2017. These moments of grace are what prepare us for the amazing things to come. Be ready! Just watch for what God has in store!

©2017 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Always In Good Company

I am the Lord, your God,
who takes hold of your right hand,
calming your fears.

Isaiah 41:13

My husband and his friend share similar foot pain. Year’s ago, Mike endured a battery of tests which he hoped would reveal the cause and a treatment plan. Much to his dismay, the results were inconclusive. A few weeks ago, Mike’s buddy endured even more extensive tests to determine the same. If his friend received any new information, my husband planned to look further into his own situation.

Much to their dismay, Mike’s friend’s tests revealed no new information. Like my husband, he’ll simply have to deal with the discomfort as best he can. I have to add that neither of these men are complainers though at times “simply” dealing with their pain isn’t easy. They know many others who have far greater health concerns and both are grateful that their situations aren’t worse. When they experience “bad foot days”, they simply bide their time until the pain lessens and then move on.

As I consider the practical approach Mike and his buddy have taken to their pain, I must acknowledge my admiration for both of them. My own experiences have taught me that our pain is our pain whether or not it is greater than someone else’s. The good news in all of this is that we never endure our pain alone. God promises to be with us in everything. Regardless of our position on the “pain scale”, God is with us through it all.

Compassionate God, make your presence known today. Allow those who are suffering to see you at their sides.

©2017 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved