Shepherded With Love

The Lord is my shepherd
and there is nothing I shall want.

Psalm 23:1

Our phone had rung for the same reason far too often. On this occasion, a gentleman whom we saw at church just a few days earlier had unexpectedly passed away. When I spoke with the man’s wife, my heart ached for her. Her life had changed with a single passing breath. Still, her concern was for her husband. He’d suffered a good deal as of late and she felt he had a right for that suffering to stop.

Though I knew this couple and had grown to love them through our encounters at church, I had no idea of just how loved they are by their family and numerous friends. I was deeply touched by the comments of those who came to mourn and to reminisce at this dear man’s services. The eulogies offered in my friend’s honor revealed so much more of the character and love which lay beneath the surface of the man whom I’d respected so. Because my friend’s wife is of the same ilk, I understood how she was able to send off her husband to enjoy the eternity he so much deserved.

It is at times such as these that Psalm 23 comes to mind. This new widow seemed to realize that she wasn’t alone in any of this. Beside her loving children and her many friends, she was accompanied by God. So it was that there truly was nothing more for her to want.

It seems to me that God knows our losses more intimately than we know them ourselves. Good Shepherd that God is, God remains with us through them all. Good Shepherd that God is, God will see to it that we and our loved ones will indeed be together once again.

Loving God, please touch all of those who mourn today with your presence and your peace.

©2019 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

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Time To Be On Our Own

A time to scatter stones, and a time to gather them;
a time to embrace, and a time to be far from embraces.

Ecclesiastes 3:5

My need for order in my life makes it unlikely that I’ll ever embrace the opportunity to “scatter” stones. I’m far more likely to arrange them in neat piles or rows -depending upon their size. I’m even less likely to choose to be far from embraces. The human touch is extremely important to us all and I cannot imagine ever situating myself far enough away from my fellow humans to preclude hugging.

As I wrote that last sentence, the image of my mom an hour before her death came to mind. When she drifted into a coma the day before, we knew that her time left could be counted in hours. Though we all had agreed to leave our mom for the night, I couldn’t bring myself to do so. I had stayed another forty minutes or so after my sisters left when I realized the error of my ways. You see, when our mom received her terminal diagnosis, she was very specific regarding where she would spend her last days. The underlying message was that she had no intention of breathing her last in any of our homes. She couldn’t bear to leave us with that memory. My presence at her bedside had obviously interfered with my mom’s intent. After kissing her one last time, I drove the thirty-minute ride home. About ten minutes after I arrived, the phone rang. My mom had taken her leave of this earth shortly after I’d left her.

Sometimes, we need to leave the proximity of those all-important embraces in order to deal with our most important work. In the end, there are some things which we must attend to alone.

Patient God, be with me as I figure out when to embrace those you have given me to love and when to leave them in peace with you.

©2019 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Beloved Servants

He took a towel and tied it around his waist.
Then he poured water into a basin
and began to wash the disciples’ feet and
dry them with the towel around his waist.

John 13:4-5

Amazing, isn’t it? Jesus knew all that was in store for him, yet he persisted. The rumblings among the people weren’t muffled enough to shield him from the probabilities which would begin to unfold within hours. Still, Jesus set aside his worry to serve those he had been given to love. I was gifted with a mom who followed Jesus’ lead precisely…

When my sisters and I gathered with heavy hearts to tell our mom the results of her surgery. The doctor had removed her eighty-two year old gall bladder with great success. Unfortunately, the disease which resulted in this procedure had spread to other organs. Nothing more could be done except to keep our mom as comfortable as possible.

When we shared this news with her, our mom immediately declared, “I’ve had a good long life. I wanted to leave a family that contributed and I have. I hope I can do what I want to do for as long as I can.” With that, our mom went on to say that she would no longer need the bedrooms she used at my sister’s and my homes. She would become a permanent resident of the facility we’d selected for her recovery. When she settled into her new home, our mom continued to do everything she could to make her eventual passing as easy as possible for us. This was her custom, you know. Our mom always put others before herself.

Tonight, as we wait with Jesus, let’s pick up our own basins and towels. Someone nearby needs his or her feet to be washed as only we can.

Dear God, we will wait through this night with Jesus just as you always wait with us.

©2019 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

A Glimpse Ahead

“…the hour is coming
and is now here when the dead will hear
the voice of…God.”

From John 5:25

This past weekend, we gathered to celebrate our granddaughter’s First Reconciliation. Claire will receive her First Communion in May. This prequel allowed her to take stock of her little heart and to acknowledge that perhaps she isn’t as perfect as Grandma and Grandpa think she is. I admit to being amazed that our youngest granddaughter has reached this milestone. In the midst of this musing, I realized that I’ve become my mom. Now I’m Grandma who shows up with Grandpa in tow for these special occasions. The truth is that I believe my mom was with us as well. It was her passing more than a dozen years ago which convinced me…

My mom had undergone surgery which ended with the discovery of a rare cancer which was irreparably advanced. Her only treatment option was hospice care. While this news devastated us, our mother took it extremely well. “I’ve had a good long life,” she said. “I just hope I can do what I want for as long as I can.” My mom went on to fulfill the doctor’s prognosis to the day. She remained miraculously pain-free and medication-free, except for her insulin, for the duration. She was up and about until three days before she left us.

During those final days, my mom mentioned the beautiful voices. She added that her sisters were waiting for her. The morning of the day she passed, I asked if she was afraid. My mom’s face glowed as she answered, “Oh no, Mary. It’s beautiful over there!” Though I’d read much of what has been written by those who’ve been to heaven and back, it was my mother’s testimony which put it all into perspective. Yes, Mom had made it home. She was also with Claire and the rest of us as we celebrated the other day.

Loving God, thank you for the glimpses of heaven which ease us home to you.

©2019 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Save Our Children…

So he went in and said to them,
“Why this commotion and weeping?
The child is not dead but asleep.”

Mark 5:39

Recent news regarding another child lost compels me to restate the obvious. Parents are not supposed to bury their children.

A recent conversation with my husband’s elderly aunt elicited poignant memories of the child she lost three decades ago… I admit that a breaking heart got the best of Mike when his cousin became ill. As was the case for years, whenever Mary ailed her parents responded immediately. Mary’s Down Syndrome had taken a toll on her heart and every cold required a serious regimen of care to prevent complications. Mary enjoyed a much longer life than expected as a result of her parents’ diligence. Mary was twenty-two when the last of those dreaded complications set in. This illness ended in the hospital stay which would be Mary’s last.

When he received the call, Mike was inconsolable. “This isn’t right. She could have lived longer!” he groaned. We immediately drove to Mary’s home to offer our condolences. Though we stood at their door with tear-filled eyes, Mary’s parents greeted us with smiles. They could hardly wait to share their amazing news. My husband’s aunt and uncle had to tell us, “Just before Mary passed away, she told us that she was going with Jesus and she smiled.” Their child’s proclamation brought the consolation they needed. When Mary’s suffering ended, they knew Mary’s absolute joy began…

Today, children will be lost to starvation, to gun violence and to abuse. Illness is one thing. These circumstances are another. Though I know that God will meet each one, most of their parents will not have the luxury of hearing Mary’s consoling words. Most of their parents will simply sob and ask, “Why?”

Compassionate God, please touch the hearts of every parent who has lost a child. Console them with a generous share of your peace. And, please God, touch the hearts of those responsible and help us all to put at end to this.

©2019 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Better Things Lie Ahead

I will not leave you orphaned.
John 14:18

Almost every time we gather, my family and I share memories of our loved ones passed. The animation in our voices betrays our common conviction that “our people” are alive and well in places unknown to us. I find great comfort in this shared certainty. There was a time when I had difficulty expressing my sentiments to those who mourned. This began when my uncle lay on his deathbed. My dad softened the blow of this impending loss by sharing that Uncle Gee would be well in heaven. His polio-ravaged body would be straight and tall and he would be very happy. Daddy’s words served me well over the next few years when both of my grandpas and my dad himself passed away.

A lifetime of losses and an insatiable interest in life after this life have convinced me that my dad was correct in his assertion regarding my uncle’s future. As a result, I sometimes struggled regarding what to say to those who aren’t as certain as I am regarding the things to come.

Whenever I receive news of someone’s passing, the first thing I do is congratulate heaven’s newest arrival. Afterward, I ask this person to watch over those who mourn him or her. In the process, I’ve come to realize that feeling the sting of loss is no commentary on a mourner’s faith in the things to come. Loss hurts regardless. What I say isn’t important. Being there is.

Loving God, bless those who mourn today and keep us all mindful of the things to come.

©2019 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved