Run Your Race

And people will come from the east and the west
and from the north and the south…

From Luke 13:29

This year’s Chicago Marathon was held on a particularly cold Sunday. Nonetheless, runners from everywhere came to test their endurance. I’m not an athlete so I have great respect for these runner’ accomplishments.

The other day, thoughts of marathon runners nudged me out the door for a trek of my own. As I considered what they accomplish over and over again, I pushed myself to walk a bit more briskly and a bit farther. The cool temperatures urged me on as well. Once I established my pace, I attended to the beauty around me. The sky boasted an amazingly deep blue and the trees showed off their vibrant colors. The spraying fountain which I passed near our village hall sparkled in the sunshine like an array of diamonds. “Thank you, for all of this!” I prayed.

You know, marathon runners and I embark upon very different journeys when we head outdoors. While they attend to improving their personal best, I tend to the things outside of me. We each do what is necessary to accomplish our goals. In the end, all concerned feel very good about what we’ve done.

Each of our journeys through this life brings unique demands. All God asks is that we tend to these things as only we can and as best we can. This is all that is asked of any of us.

Gracious God, thank you for your unique call to each of us. May our efforts be a blessing to all whom we meet along the way.

©2019 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

God’s Life-Giving Clouds

Last Sunday, I wrote about those perfect storms which cause our personal varieties of circumstances to rumble and to collide. Such storms disrupt everything in their paths. The morsels of peace which normally keep us anchored are strewn about haphazardly as well. All of this commotion prompts us to wonder if our lives will ever return to normal. Fortunately, though perhaps not as quickly as we’d hoped, the clouds disperse and calmer weather settles in. The Persistent One who lingers within nudges us to look beyond the damage caused by that messy weather. God, who remains with us always, points us toward the new day and the new opportunities which lie just ahead. So it is that we find the strength to reassess, to regroup and to refocus our efforts. Though God doesn’t guarantee clear skies and sunshine every step of the way, God does promise to remain with us all the while.

As for me, I’m happy to have weathered my own perfect storm and I’m most grateful for God’s good company throughout those difficult days. Though I never ever want to repeat that episode in my life, I’m grateful for the perspective it has given me. Every day since has become a precious gift in spite the clouds which threaten perhaps too frequently. The truth is that I’ve found reason to look at the clouds above me and around me with new eyes. After all, these clouds promise the rain which brings life to all of creation. Though clouds yielded far more snow than I liked this winter, that snow provided hours of fun times for the children in my life. It also inspired many good deeds in our neighborhood where we helped one another to dig out of the white stuff so we could all get on with our days. Clouds often keep the sun out of my eyes and those of the good deacon as we drive down Green Bay Road or the tollway to visit our grandchildren. The clouds above give me reason to look upward and to consider the beauty and the majesty which lies beyond them. Though I know God resides within me and around me, nothing draws my eyes heavenward more quickly than a sky full of billowy clouds. The clouds which evolved into my perfect storm certainly caused damage. At the same time, they’ve also inspire a new perspective. Rather than being overwhelmed by the clouds in my life, I’ve learned to use them as opportunities to exercise my ability to carry on. Yes, clouds can be quite a gift to us.

On this Second Sunday of Lent, Luke’s gospel (Luke 9:28-36) recounts the story of the Transfiguration of Jesus. By the time Jesus invited Peter, James and John to accompany him up that mountainside, the disciples had come to respect and to love Jesus very much. On that particular day, Jesus chose to reveal something more about himself which simple words could not express. Luke tells us that Jesus’ lessons up to that point had certainly flown in the face of the teachings his friends and all of the people had encountered in the temple. Jesus insisted that God’s people were what mattered most. Whenever necessary, Jesus set aside the stern rules which had caused God’s loved ones so much needless hardship. “The Law was made for man,” Jesus insisted, and not the other way around. If that wasn’t revolutionary enough, that trip up that mountainside provided Peter, James and John a glimpse of the treasure which lay at the end of Jesus’ ministry and at the end of his life. When Jesus took on his “afterlife” appearance in the company of Moses and Elijah, he offered his closest friends a glimpse of the glory which awaits us all. Because he didn’t know what to say about all of this, Peter blurted out something about building a tent to shelter the three marvelous figures before him. It was then that God intervened with a cloud. That cloud began its work by casting a shadow over the disciples. Before Peter could say another word, the cloud surrounded them. Amazingly, it was while they stood in the midst of that seemingly ominous cloud that God spoke. “This is my chosen son; listen to him.” I’m quite certain that this cloudy mountainside encounter with eternity strengthened Peter, James and John throughout the terrible days which followed. After all, on that day, they were assured of their own places among the clouds.

When we find ourselves surrounded by thunderclouds, we need to remember who it was that Peter, James and John found when they suffered the same. Though frightened beyond their senses, they stopped to take notice when God spoke out to them. When God said, “Listen to him,” God reminded Jesus’ friends of all Jesus had taught them about God’s love for them. Through all that lay ahead, God loved them and God stayed with them. The same is true for you and me. Less than 30 days remain of Lent 2019. I encourage you to join me in spending every one of those days listening for God’s voice in the clouds around us. Though it may not come as boldly as it did on that mountainside, God’s voice and God’s love will be there just the same.

©2019 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Be Salt! Be Light!

Jesus said to his disciples,
“You are the salt of the earth…
You are the light of the world.”

From Matthew 5:13-16

I admit that I’ve developed some interest in the obituary section of our daily newspaper. This began some months ago when I inadvertently came across the obituary of a classmate and friend with whom I’d lost contact after we both married. Ed (I called him Eddie.) was a great guy, a talented musician and a truly supportive friend. He’s one of the special people who have influenced my life for the better. I’m most grateful for both these long-term and minute-long encounter. Each one has opened my eyes to one aspect or another of myself, this life, this world and God. As I used to tell my students and my own sons, you may never know whom you are helping or who is helping you along the way. Still, even the briefest of these encounters can be life-changing for those involved.

Over the years, I’ve discovered that, whatever our named occupation or standing or relationship to others is, we are all called to be our best and to bring our best to whatever our situation may be. Whether our influence is world-wide or confined to a single room, that influence will change everything for those within this realm.

You know, Jesus didn’t target the temple hierarchy, government officials, local celebrities or the wealthy when he proclaimed that we are the salt of the earth and the light of the world. God holds each of us in such esteem that he calls us all to be the salt and the light that only we can be.

Dear God, thank you for trusting us to make this world a better place. Help us to use this power with wisdom and love.

©2019 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Plod Along As Best You Can

And people will come from the east and the west
and from the north and the south…

From Luke 13:29

A few weeks ago, runners from everywhere ran the Chicago Marathon. My son Mike did the same five years ago and my niece did so some years before that. Because I’m not an athlete, I feel especially honored to share my gene pool with these two. Thoughts of their accomplishments have kept me on track as of late. Though I prefer walking outdoors, I jog in place for a few minutes during every hour when my writing has kept me at my keyboard for too long.

The other day, when those indoor jogs weren’t enough, I abandoned my writing for an hour. Once outdoors, I pushed myself to walk a bit more briskly and a bit farther than usual. Once I established my pace, I attended to autumn’s beauty which surrounded me. The sky above boasted a beautiful deep blue over the trees which showed their vibrant colors. The spraying fountain I passed near our village hall sparkled in the sunshine like an array of diamonds. “Thank you, for all of this!” I prayed.

You know, we all embark upon very different journeys along our way. While serious runners remain attuned to what their bodies tell them along the way, I tend to the things outside of me. We all do what is necessary to accomplish our goals. In my case, a bit of exercise in the midst of God’s handiwork is just what I need to get to where I need to be.

All of our journeys bring unique demands. All God asks is that we tend to these things as best we can. God will see to the rest.

Gracious God, thank you for running and walking with us wherever we are.

©2018 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Thank You, Sister!

Doing the will of him who sent me
and bringing his work to completion
is my food.

John 4:34

While making salads for dinner, I was distracted by a familiar voice. My husband had tuned in to a rerun of The Flying Nun. I looked up to see Sally Field in her Sister Bertrille habit. She was in the midst of an adventure with her fellow nuns at their convent in San Juan. I didn’t watch the show when it aired because I was busy with homework and the part-time job which paid my college tuition. These days, I enjoy an episode here and there. Each one offers a glimpse into the humanity of Sister Bertrille and the hope with which she faced everything. Though the show wasn’t meant to be religious, it did highlight the best of what I encountered in the nuns I’ve met along the way.

Three of my aunts were nuns. From the time I realized what a nun was, I wanted to enter the convent, too. As it happened, I spent a lot of time with them over the years. Beside our encounters in the classroom, I spent an entire summer during college in a convent. Two remarkable nuns and I provided summer classes for immigrant children. We hoped to introduce them to English and ease their transition into school that fall. The truth is that this was one of the best summers of my life!

Looking back, I see that I was drawn to the nuns because of the good they did. Their dedication to caring for others appealed to me. They taught me that when we open our eyes and our hearts to others, we find amazing and unexpected ways to make God’s work our own. We also find amazing and unexpected joy. Wherever you are, I thank you all!

Dear God, bless the nuns and all who have opened my eyes to your loving ways.

©2018 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Be Salt… Be Light…

“You are the salt of the earth…
You are the light of the world.”

From Matthew 5:13-16

A compilation of the people who have influenced my life for the better would hold its own against Santa’s list. I am most grateful for the long-term and minute-long encounters which have opened my eyes to one aspect or another of myself, this life, this world and God. You know, we never really know whom we’re helping along the way. The briefest encounter can be life-changing for those involved.

Over the years, I’ve discovered that, whatever our named occupation or standing or relationship to others is, we are all called to be our best and to bring our best to whatever the situation may be. Whether our influence is world-wide or confined to a single room, that influence will change everything for those within this realm.

You know, Jesus didn’t target the temple hierarchy, government officials, local celebrities or the wealthy when he proclaimed that we are the salt of the earth and the light of the world. God holds each of us in such esteem that he calls us all to be the salt and the light that only we can be.

Creator God, thank you for trusting us to make this world a better place. Help us to use this power with wisdom and love.

©2018 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved