God Remains

God is love, and whoever remains in love
remains in God and God in him.

1 John 4:16

While walking yesterday, I stepped over the remains of a burned sparkler. I wondered what it was doing on the sidewalk. This year, there are no fireworks displays in the area. Though I’ve heard lots of activity in the neighborhood over the past week, none of those crackles and booms were “official” displays. I can only assume that this sparkler is the result of similar revelry. As I continued my walk, my thoughts turned to our typical July 4th rituals…

How I loved dragging folding chairs out to our driveway. We live just near enough to an amusement park to enjoy their annual fireworks. Ours is a relatively new neighborhood and our newly planted trees didn’t grow tall enough to block our view for quite a few years. We and our neighbors gathered in the center of our cul-de-sac street to watch the always-breath-taking display. Eventually, those trees grew and our wonderful view was diminished. Since then, the fireworks have seemed a little too far away. In recent years, though we and some of our neighbors have dragged those chairs a few blocks closer, the view and our camaraderie simply isn’t the same.

As I ponder this disappointment, I can’t help considering other occasions when I wished I’d been a little closer. When life’s struggles threaten, I sometimes feel quite alone as try to focus on what needs to be done. Finally, in the midst of my misery, I give in to my propensity to look upward for assistance. Why does it take me so long to remember that I’m never really alone in anything?

Regardless of the joys and sorrows I encounter, God’s love is the constant which never changes. Though there were no fireworks displays this year, God remained deep within me.

Loving God, too many of us are struggling these days. Today, please touch each one with tangible reminders that you’re always nearby.

©2020 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

We Walk In Good Company

Give Thanks to God for God is good.
From Psalm 136:1

Before I set out to walk this morning, I decided that I would empty my mind of the day’s concerns and open myself up to God’s presence. If you’ve read these posts the past few days, I think you’ll agree that this was a well-timed decision on my part. Still, I have to admit that I wasn’t a block away from home when I realized that my mind was as cluttered as ever with worries of every sort. While most of these things matter greatly, in the grand scheme of things, there isn’t much I can do to deal with them.

As I walked on, I tried to think of anything but my laundry list of complaints regarding life on this June 2020 day. Tried as I might to shake it, my angst relentlessly dug in and clung to me. “Ugh!” I said aloud. “Why can’t I get rid of the negativity?” Though I expected no answer, an uncommonly cool breeze responded immediately. Without a thought, I said aloud, “O God, I love the wind! It reminds me that you’re with me.” As I continued to walk, those worries remained. The difference was that they’d lost their ability to overwhelm me. Somehow, I knew that all will be well in the end.

As I made my way through the neighborhood and then back home, that breeze continued to press against my back and God continued to remind me that I am never alone. None of us is ever alone!

Good and gracious God, thank you for walking with me. Thank you for walking with every one of us.

©2020 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

What Can I Do?

And let us consider how we may encourage
one another on toward love and good deeds…

Hebrews 10:24

I realize that I’ve been in a bit of a rut as of late. I suppose life in the midst of this COVID-19 pandemic has done this to us all to some degree. You’ve likely noticed while reading these posts that I’m full of impatience. The state of our world and of the many institutions which provide structure to our daily lives are the reason for this. I feel a great sense of urgency which demands that the powers-that-be do something to improve life on this planet. At the same time, I feel impelled to take action myself as well. I did reach out to that neighborhood support group, but there is so much more to do!

As I write, I wonder if all of my fretting has given the Lord God reason to laugh. God knows better than I that we humans have struggled with the results of our use of free will since time began. God also knows better than I that in our brighter moments, when we allow the goodness within us to light our way, we are capable of transforming the worst situations into amazing opportunities.

Perhaps God hasn’t been laughing at me after all. Rather, God has smiled in my direction and imparted a bit of Divine Wisdom in the process. It occurs to me that, though I may not be able to alleviate all of this world’s woes, I can certainly do something in my little corner of this world. Let’s see. What can I do today?

Patient God, as long as we care, we are capable of great good. Help me and all of us to use our energy and resources to make that goodness a reality.

©2020 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

One People, One Family

Blessed too are the sorrowing;
they shall be consoled.

Matthew 5:4

When my husband and I left for Israel, I carried some baggage in addition to that mid-sized suitcase in which I’d managed to pack everything I needed for the trip. As I typed “everything I needed”, I realized that the other baggage which weighed me down wasn’t necessary after all.

I shared earlier that this trip included much more than visits to Israel’s numerous holy places. For me, every encounter with Israel’s people and my increasing understanding of their present-day life and struggles added to the holiness of Jesus’ long ago home. In every direction I looked, I found remnants of the lives of Jesus and his contemporaries. Israel had changed beyond recognition in some ways, yet it remained the same in many others. Perhaps this was the case for me as well. With every passing moment, I remained while a bit more of that unnecessary baggage disappeared.

This freed me to respond to our guide Yossi’s ongoing requests for prayers. “Pray for peace among us,” Yossi repeated. At the same time, Yossi did his part to build relationships among his countrymen. He brought us to a Palestinian restaurant, an Arab gift shop and cafe, an Arab glass factory, the home of a Messianic Jewish couple and Shabbat dinner with an Orthodox Jewish family. Yossi’s exchanges with those who hosted us made it obvious that Yossi had nurtured relationships with each one. Afterward, Yossi observed that regardless of the troubles which beset each group, “They are just like us. All they want is the chance to work hard and to bring home food for their families.” In his own way, Yossi consoled the sorrowing with the gifts of his support, his friendship and our prayers.

Loving God, help us to bring you to those who need you most just as Yossi does.

©2020 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

God Fuels Our Hope

I surprised myself the other day when I woke an hour later than usual. Before I could tell myself that I must have needed the extra sleep, a slit of light at the window caught my eye. “Thank you for the sunshine,” I whispered. Though the snow that coated everything on Halloween had long since disappeared, clouds and cold temperatures lingered for days afterward. What a thrill is was to open the shades to embrace this new day! Since my dear husband had already headed to the kitchen for coffee, I stayed at the window to admire the crisp and sunny November morning. “Ah,” I told myself, “Maybe Mike and the boys won’t freeze today!” On this beautiful Saturday, our sons planned to whisk their dad away to celebrate his birthday. They’d visit a favorite brewery and then move on to dinner. This remained top secret until Mike arrived at the designated establishment with our out-of-town friend Matt. Only when the two were greeted with a “Happy Birthday!” by our sons did Mike realize he was being surprised. As for me, I was thrilled to be a part of this undercover operation. All the while, I recounted the decades of days I’ve had with this husband of mine. Where has the time has gone, Lord?

Change has been a constant throughout our life together. Mike lived in North Chicago and I lived in real Chicago when we met. A year later, we married and I left the city to move north. The good news was that I secured a job I loved in the North Chicago Schools where Mike also worked. The bad news was that I left my family and friends to do this. A few years into our union, we found a house that was just right. However, that find also required my commitment to become a working mom when a child came along. A few years later, we were thrilled by our older son’s arrival. Four months later, I tearfully dropped off Mikie at our babysitter’s home and then drove on to work. Our second son didn’t come along for quite some time. Fertility issues had delayed his eventual miraculous arrival. This time, I returned to work when Timmy was two and Mikie was ten. Throughout the years that followed, Mikie morphed into Mike and Timmy grew into Tim. Throughout those years, the good deacon was ordained, the 9/11 tragedy occurred and we both lost our moms. Our kids fought off the usual illnesses, my sister was diagnosed with lung cancer and we lost her. Several other precious loved ones succumbed to a variety of illnesses and old age. Our sons graduated college and moved on to good jobs. They married wonderful young women who joined them in giving us five much-loved grandchildren. All the while, the world’s troubles remained and, in some cases, worsened. Our own troubles came and went as well. We didn’t escape our own illnesses, job-related woes and concerns regarding church. Still, I give thanks that life has been oddly joyful and sweet. At the same time, I feel a little out of place in the peacefulness of it all. Are you trying to tell me something, Lord?

When I finally joined Mike in the kitchen that morning, I drifted toward the window to admire the bright blue sky. It would soon hide behind gray clouds. Sadly, I had to acknowledge that the same beautiful sky too often reigns over ominously sad and troubled days for us all. So many weren’t particularly peaceful at that moment. I imagined the sounds of gunfire and explosions across the ocean. I cringed as merciless winds and crackling embers continued their assault on the west coast. A friend who battles leukemia girded himself to fight all that this enemy has in store. Another friend hoped for love with absolute uncertainty regarding how to proceed. The world’s poor hoped for very little as their struggles persisted. A childless couple hoped their child would soon come. I took one last peek at the slowly disappearing blue above. Are you telling me something here, Lord?

I told myself that generations have come and gone under this sky and that more will do the same in the years, decades and centuries ahead. Oddly joyful and oddly sweet days will continue to punctuate human history, just as moments of despair and sadness will leave their marks. As I considered the tough times which touched my own life, I was amazed that I continued to find cause to feel genuinely grateful. Even in my sorrow, I’d been blessed. Trying times will always be a part of our experience on this earth. At the same time, recovery from these things will also always be a part of our lives here. You are telling me something, Lord!

When I sat at my keyboard to begin this writing, sunshine reappeared for a just a few seconds. “Where is that coming from?” I asked as I read the scriptures for this day. The readings from Malachi (3:19-20) and Luke (21:5-19) explain: We must never ever lose heart, especially when we’re tempted by despair. God insists that, regardless of our suffering here, peace and joy are the mainstay of heaven. God insists that these blessings aren’t a matter of hope. They are reality. Every day, God finds ways to fuel our hope until it is fully realized in eternity.

©2019 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

God Always Listens

The Lord looked down from the holy height,
from heaven God beheld us.

Psalm 102:20

As a child, people often asked me to pray for things and I obliged as best I could. Every night, before allowing myself to go to sleep, I said my prayers. This was more my mother’s doing than my own. When she tucked me into bed at night, she always asked, “Did you say your prayers?” If I had, I proudly acknowledged this. If I hadn’t, I admitted my omission and quickly began. Sometimes, though I told my mom that I’d already said my prayers, she mentioned that I might want to offer an extra prayer for someone who was sick or who had difficulties to deal with. I did so because I was pleased that my mom thought my prayers were helpful.

Over the years, concerns which seemed not to be alleviated by my prayers caused me to question this effort. I wondered often if my prayers actually accomplished anything. Fortunately, I eventually learned to set aside my laundry list of requests and to sit quietly in God’s company for a bit. Rather then voicing what God already knew, I invited God to look into my heart for my troubles and for those I carried for others. Though I wasn’t always sure of what my prayers did for those who needed them, just knowing that God was aware changed everything for me. Though I rarely knew what, I knew that something would be done in God’s good time.

Generous God, help us never to doubt your concern for us. Increase our persistence, that we will always turn to you in our need and with our gratitude.

©2019 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved