Look Beyond The Fog…

While spending the day with our grandsons, three-year-old Danny and I engaged in a discussion regarding fog. Danny lives a bit closer to Lake Michigan than Grandpa and I do. So it is that he awakes to foggy mornings more often than we. That morning, I’d remarked to Danny that, though we had no fog at all in Gurnee, his neighborhood was covered with it. Danny, who is intrigued by new information of every sort, shared with me what his teacher had taught him a few days earlier: “You need water to have fog. We live by Lake Michigan, so we get to have fog.” Though I was tempted to add that a collision of warm air and cold air also has something to do with fog’s formation, I thought better of it. Danny’s observation that “we get to have fog” was far more important than any explanation of meteorological processes which I might have offered. Ever since, I’ve been mulling over the possibility that I haven’t viewed the fog in my life with Danny’s appreciative anticipation.

Today, John’s gospel (11:1-45) describes the fog which engulfed Jesus’ relationship with some dear friends. Martha, Mary and their brother Lazarus loved Jesus very much. They listened carefully to his every word. They internalized Jesus’ teaching and took all that he said to heart. This is the reason Mary and Martha sent word to Jesus when they realized the seriousness of their brother’s illness. There was nothing more they could do than to place the ailing Lazarus in Jesus’ care. By the time Jesus arrived, however, Lazarus had died. When she saw Jesus approach, Martha ran from her home to meet him. She told Jesus, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died. But even now I know that whatever you ask of God, God will give you.” Jesus replied with talk of the resurrection on the last day and, though Martha acknowledged this, she seemed to be asking for something more. A few minutes later, Mary also ran to Jesus. When she fell at his feet, Mary echoed her sister’s words: “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.” Mary said nothing more. She’d stated the truth of the matter and that was that. Did Martha and Mary see possibilities lying beyond that fog?

Throughout my own painful stretches, I’ve tried to emulate Martha and Mary. I’ve echoed, “Lord, if you had been here, if you had been watching, if you were really paying attention, none of these things would have happened!” Unfortunately, my imitation of Martha and Mary has been lack-luster at best. Though I’ve enumerated my woes with their passion, I’ve failed to do so with their faith. Martha and Mary were good Jewish women who lived by the teachings of their faith. These sisters were also attentive followers of Jesus. They liked what Jesus had to say and they lived out his message in their daily lives as best they could. They trusted this one who had come to be known as a prophet, healer and miracle worker. More importantly, they loved this man of God who had demonstrated God’s mercy and unconditional love in ways they’d never experienced before. I noted above that Martha and Mary seemed to be asking for something for Lazarus beyond Jesus’ assurances regarding life after this life. Somehow, they knew Jesus could and would do more. As for me, I have an advantage over Martha and Mary. Though they walked with Jesus, looked into his eyes, heard his voice and felt his hand upon their shoulders, they didn’t know the outcome of Jesus’ work. Two thousand years and generations of believers later, I know that outcome, yet I become fearful. I know the outcome of Jesus’ work, yet I fail to anticipate what lies beyond the fog.

Perhaps this is what Danny met when he said, “We get to have fog.” Those blurry times, when seeing what lies ahead is difficult, aren’t a curse after all. They’re simply an opportunity to make our way through the fog because a clearer view always await us on the other side. So it is that I’ve changed my litany. Now I pray, “Lord, I know you love me. I know you watch over me with great care. You know my suffering and the suffering of those you’ve given me to love and you’re with us through it all.” When, I close with my “Amen”, the weight of the world lifts from my shoulders. Danny has taught me about the possibilities that come with each new day’s fog and with all of our worries. When we hand them over to God, we open ourselves to the clear skies which await us.

This is the Fifth Sunday of Lent. We’ll celebrate Easter in just two weeks. Until then, difficulties near and far will threaten to cloud our days. Whether fog engulfs our own homes, our workplaces, our neighborhoods or the other side of this world, let’s respond with Martha’s and Mary’s certainty. God will be with us through it all! Though Jesus’ suffering will be our focus on Palm Sunday and throughout Holy Week, let’s remember the acts of love and compassion which preceded that suffering. In all that he said and did, Jesus led those he touched through the fog of their suffering into the light of God’s love. These last days of Lent and always, God simply asks that we see the opportunities which lie beyond the fog around us and that we embrace the love we find there.

©2019 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

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Love Them All…

Blest are you who are weeping;
you shall laugh.

From Luke 4:21

A recent newscast referenced Polk Street, the West Side, Chicago. I grew up in a two-flat on Polk Street. When I closed my eyes to retrieve a mental picture of my childhood home, my friend Glenda came to mind. Though I’ve written about Glenda before, I can’t resist doing so once again…

Glenda and I lived on the same block and we were classmates from first through sixth grade. During sixth grade, Glenda blossomed into a young woman quite noticeably and I managed to annoy our teacher on a daily basis regardless of my genuine effort to do just the opposite.

On the day that comes to mind, Sister announced that we would read the essays we’d just written before the entire class. Shyness caused Glenda and me to tremble in unison. When I was called, I managed to read my work without a fumble. When Sister called Glenda, I closed my eyes and prayed that she would do the same. A giggle interrupted my prayer. A second giggle prompted me to open my eyes. By the time I realized what had happened, everyone was laughing except for me. Glenda’s blouse had unbuttoned and I was mortified for her. Fortunately, Sister quickly took control and sent Glenda and me into the hallway. While I explained what had happened to my friend, Sister mercilessly reprimanded the rest of the class. Poor Glenda sobbed until I convinced her that we were the lucky ones because the rest of the class was in serious trouble. Though our classmates ostracized us for a while because we “got them into trouble”, Glenda’s and my friendship was sealed forever.

Dear God, I could never have laughed at Glenda. I loved her too much! Help me to be as loving toward everyone I meet today.

©2019 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

J is for Joy

The Lord has sent me to bring
glad tidings to the poor…

From Luke 4:18

J is for Joy. Sometimes, it’s difficult to focus on joy. A recent off-the-cuff comment opened an old wound. Because I tend to let go of hurtful moments from the past, this recollection took me by surprise. I distracted myself by perusing the newspaper which increased my melancholy exponentially. I set aside the paper and grabbed the remote. As I made my way through the channels, a news report caught my eye. The update confirmed that recent violence was accomplished to honor God’s name. I sank into my recliner, looked out the window and asked, “Dear God, what are we doing?”

We humans have been hurting one another in God’s name since the beginning of time. Still… Before I could repeat my question, a strong gust scattered glitter-like snow across the frozen ground. Almost on cue, several birds fluttered about, ensuring that those sparkling bits of ice remained afloat. When the birds congregated at their favorite feeder, another gust swirled the silver-white specks yet higher. That gust lifted my heart as well. “Thank you, Lord!” I said aloud.

Though that glistening snow didn’t change the subzero temperature outdoors, it filled me up with winter’s beauty. Though those flitting flakes will eventually settle and melt, God’s handiwork always surrounds me. As long as some of us continue to appreciate the joy within us and around us, there will be joy in this world of ours. Rather than allowing ourselves to be overwhelmed by wounds old and new, we must revel in the joy we have and share that joy with one another at every opportunity.

Generous God, help us to remain focused on your joy in spite of our continuing attempts to distort and disfigure it. Help us also to share that joy with those who need it most.

©2019 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Make The Most of The Moment

“Little ones, let no one deceive you;
the one who acts in holiness is holy indeed….”

From 1 John 3:7

When I hang my new calendar each January, I’m usually ready to return to what I consider to be “normal”. This year, however, is different. As I planned my “de-decorating” strategy, I wondered just how long I might dare to keep up our Christmas Tree and houseful of decorations. After long days of planning and celebrating, I found great comfort in the colored lights strewn about the railings and tree. My affection for the peaceful company nestled in and around the crèche under our tree compelled me to hold on tightly to Christmas. I longed to postpone my return to “normal” for as long as possible…

As I considered how to proceed, I sat near our Christmas Tree one more time. I gazed at the tiny baby in the crib and realized that there was no returning to “normal” after Jesus arrived. Because of him, everything changed for us all. With that, I mentioned to my husband that we could take down the decorations whenever he was ready. Though these visuals would be packed away in our basement until next Christmas, the transformation which began in Bethlehem more than two thousand years ago will continue through me and through us all.

So it is that I’ve turned to my January 2019 Calendar to renew my commitment to make this better this year. I’ll do my best to bring my best to every moment I’m given. Every time I succeed, someones life may be changed by that encounter with God’s goodness.

God of Love, this world needs you more than ever. Help me to bring your presence into every moment of the coming year.

©2019 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Merry Christmas!

While they were there,
the days of her confinement were completed.
She gave birth to her first-born son
and wrapped him in swaddling clothes
and laid him in a manger.

Luke 2:6-7

Mary draws her son close to herself to kiss his forehead. His eyes open just long enough to reveal the depth of their color. The newborn sleeps again, content to nestle in his mother’s arms. The rhythm of her heartbeat eases the child into deep slumber. A grateful Mary leans back against the cold wall as she embraces Jesus. Her heart feels as though it will burst within her, for she loves her son more than it is possible to love…

One wonders what the Child’s Father is thinking in the distance…

“Mary is the most perfect of my children. Yet, in spite of their foolishness, I love them all. I cannot resist them, for everything I have made is good, and they are my greatest work. When I willed their world into being, I envisioned a kingdom. This realm would not be ruled by a monarch. It would be inspired by love. I breathed life into my first children, that they might evolve into lovers as insatiable as I. Though I gave them a pleasing appearance, I blessed them far more with pleasing spirits. In my image and likeness, I set them out to be fruitful. I set them out to experience the joy that their lives are meant to be.

“When they used their gifts as the means to walk away from me, I lingered in their shadows. I knew too well the pain and sorrow that lurked on the path ahead. How could I allow them to embark alone upon the journey they had chosen? When the faithful among them opened their hearts to me, I revealed myself to them. Noah, Abraham and Sarah, Isaac, Moses and Aaron, Isaiah and David began to understand. When they erred with the rest of my children, they persisted in turning back to me to begin again. How they worked to honor the Covenant and to align their hearts with my own!

“It was not enough, I know. They could not comprehend the depth of my love for them. So I pursue them further in the person of my son. Dearest Mary, your innocent devotion honors me. As I watch you cradle my son, I long to draw you and each of your sisters and brothers to myself. Just as your love and tenderness nurture him, this child will nurture the world with my tenderness and love. If only each one of them could feel my embrace as Jesus feels your embrace this holy night. If only they will learn to embrace one another…”

I cannot pretend to know what God was thinking the night of Jesus’ birth. I can, however, turn to Jesus’ life to gain some sense of the passion with which God loves us. Jesus was born among the poor, that every one of us might feel welcome in his company. Jesus honored his father and mother, that we might find honor as parents. Jesus learned a trade and worked to care for his family, that we might find satisfaction in our labor. Jesus left everything to embrace his calling, that we might find the courage to follow our hearts as well. Jesus illustrated our God’s capacity to love through the story of the Prodigal Son and in his own actions. Jesus was incapable of walking away from a soul who needed him. Jesus healed each one of obvious physical afflictions and the festering sores that disfigured his or her heart. Jesus wept at the death of his friend Lazarus, and he weeps with us over our losses. Jesus stepped into our shoes to show us how to walk graciously through this life. Jesus embraced all of humanity with God’s loving hands, reminiscent of his first embrace in the arms of Mary.

This Christmas, we join our Loving God in celebrating Mary’s generosity in bearing and nurturing Jesus. Mary’s life changed forever the night of Jesus’ birth and so changed the life of this world. The child Jesus felt love for the first time in the arms of his mother. In turn, Jesus taught this lesson of love in all that he said and did. Jesus could not contain his love for those around him any more than Mary could contain the love she felt for Jesus. This Christmas, we are invited to do the same for ourselves and for those we have been given to love. We are invited to open our hearts as Mary did and to allow God’s Son to change our lives forever. In doing so, we discover the reality of Christmas: Hope realized, peace on earth, true joy and love incarnate. Our Christmas Gift to this world is sharing these blessings with one another.

©2018 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Mary Loves

Mary said, “I am the maidservant of the Lord.
Let it be done to me as you say.”

Luke 1:38

I have once again found a few minutes of quiet. I go to the living room where our Christmas Tree reigns. Though it’s the tree’s fragrance that invariably beckons me in to appreciate its splendor, it is the village at its feet which keeps my attention. Every year, my husband lies on the floor under our tree for hours to fashion his current vision of Bethlehem. Though Mike’s placement of the houses and trees, cars, figures and skating pond vary from year to year, they always sit in humble deference to the crèche.

When events around me near and far threaten my Christmas Spirit, I come to the place where Mary’s “yes” to the Angel Gabriel came to fruition. As I gaze at Mary and her baby, I consider the difficulties that turned this poor teenager’s world upside-down. I realize the insignificance of our current troubles in the grand scheme of things. I thank God for loving us so much that God never loses confidence in our ability to make things right, one loving act at a time.

Generous God, today I will honor Mary and you with my loving response to whatever lies on the path before me. Give me the generosity of spirit to say “yes” with Mary’s determination to all that you ask of me.

©2018 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved