Peace Patrol

O Lord, you have been our refuge through all generations.
Psalm 90:1 21:23

When I taught, I prided myself in remaining calm in the face of misbehavior. My students apparently agreed as indicated by their subsequent compliance. Still, I admit to allowing my anger to get the best of me the morning I heard that a student I’d taught a year earlier had died. The sting of his loss remains…

Though he had a very kind heart, Lee had also been taken in by the allure of the streets just like some of his older family members. This time, Lee drove a van that his friends had loaded with stolen bicycles. A police chase resulted in the accident which took Lee’s life. At school the following morning, I heard one of Lee’s classmates bragging that he had been in the van during that chase and that he flew out the door and ran away when the van tipped on its side. Before he could finish his yarn, I called him over. “Who do you think you are?” I wailed. “Lee died last night and you were nowhere near that van. Don’t you dare try to make yourself look cool because of Lee’s death!”

I didn’t realize the power of my words. Suddenly, one could literally hear a pin drop in the once noisy hallway. While the target of my ire crept into his classroom with his eyes cast to the floor, others who knew Lee stopped to offer their condolences over the friend we had all lost. These kindnesses returned some semblance of peace to our now incomplete world.

Dear God, Lee rests in your everlasting peace, I know. Be with us as we work to bring a hint of that peace to one another.

©2017 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

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All God’s Lambs

The Lord is my shepherd and there is nothing I shall want.
Psalm 23:1

The month of October proved to be challenging. Two amazing women completed their battles with cancer and moved on to the hereafter. A very young man in the neighborhood endured a tragic accident and moved on as well. The rainy weather mirrors my sentiments as I continue my prayers for those left behind.

I’ve walked with many loved ones through serious illnesses. I watched helplessly as they processed the scenario which lay before them. In every case, I was deeply moved by their bravery through transitions from anger to fear to sadness to practical concern for those left behind to joyful anticipation of the things to come. It was then that I offered frequent prayers of thanksgiving for the grace which allowed these amazing souls to manage their illnesses and to embrace their journeys home to God.

As is the case with most of us, my journey home to heaven lies ahead sometime beyond my knowing. In the mean time, I turn to a favorite Psalm where I find encouragement for the journey ahead. Psalm 23 elicits the image of a happy little lamb dancing through tall grass in a beautiful pasture. Within seconds, this lamb’s revelry becomes my own. “The Lord is my shepherd and there is nothing I shall want…”

With that, I resolve to do my best today regardless of all this day will bring. I do so with a smile because God is my shepherd and there really is nothing more for me to want.

Loving God, help us all to remember that you are always walking at our sides.

©2017 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

God Walks Us Through It All

God will rescue you from the snare of the fowler
and from the destroying pestilence.

Psalm 91:3

Psalm 91 inspired a familiar hymn which I hear at most funerals. Isn’t it odd that, in the midst of our losses, we sing about God’s rescuing us from the snare of such sadness? Though this may seem odd, this is precisely what God has done every time I’ve found myself steeped in misery.

Two weeks ago, I attended a wake where a mother sat sadly before her daughter’s casket. Though this mother was elderly and her daughter had lived five decades, the setting was not as things should be. Parents shouldn’t bury their children at any age. Yet, how often they do. As I approached this woman, my thoughts turned to Mary, the mother of Jesus. It occurred to me that even Jesus’ family wasn’t spared this unthinkable sorrow. When I noticed the rosary in her hand, I realized that this mourning mother was deep in conversation with one who knew just how she felt. I know that God shared in her sorrow as well.

Our earthly lives do include a few givens… taxes and death, right? Unfortunately, though our time on this earth includes ample opportunities to enjoy God’s gifts, it also includes a measure of sorrow for each one of us. When we sing or pray about God rescuing us, this doesn’t guarantee that God will dispel our misery or scoop us up and away from our troubles. It does mean that God will walk us through our pain toward better things to come.

Loving God, thank you for walking with me.

©2017 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

A Promise Fulfilled

“Amen, amen, I say to you… the dead will hear the voice of God.”
From John 5:28

I believe I make peace with he passing of my loved ones for good reason. From very early on, my parents assured me that those who neared death were destined for absolute happiness and health in heaven. As I grew older and came to appreciate the suffering of those left behind, I held on to my parents’ promises and my own conviction that heaven is indeed worth the pain of this temporary separation. Over the years, I’ve found further consolation in my faith and in the wonderful accounts offered by those gifted with Near Death Experiences. These people who have tasted life after this life assure us all that my parents’ promises from long ago are well-founded.

A close encounter with this phenomenon came at the hands of my mom. She was diagnosed with terminal cancer and given a prognosis of four more months. After acknowledging that she had lived a good and long life, my mother’s only wish was to be independent for as long as possible. As it happened, she remained miraculously pain-free and medication-free, except for her insulin, until the end. It was during her final week among us that my mom mentioned the beautiful voices. She also remarked that her sisters were waiting for her. The morning of the day she passed, I asked my mom if she was afraid. Her face glowed when she answered, “Oh no, Mary. It’s beautiful over there!”

Loving God, thank you for these amazing glimpses of the wonder which lies ahead.

©2017 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Lasting Goodness

Give him the reward of his labors,
and let his works praise him at the city gates.

Proverbs 31:31

Several weeks ago, I attended a picnic in recognition of The Special Olympics and my dear cousin who supported them with all of his heart and much of his effort. I found the picnic area easily. I simply followed the sound of happy chatter and the enticing aromas which filled the air. They led me to my sister and my cousins who stood in amazement at the lively circus before them. The teacher in me was thrilled to see so many “special” kids in the middle of every activity. The cousin in me had to hold back tears as I envisioned Jon looking down at all of this with his habitually broad smile.

Jon is one of five cousins who lost their parents at ages 49 and 50. Jon and his younger sister, only in their twenties themselves, each took in one of the younger children who were just eleven and fifteen. While dealing with the loss of their parents, these cousins of mine supported one another and became closer than ever. They also maintained amazingly positive attitudes through it all. Jon’s commitment to The Special Olympics and his other charitable endeavors is clear evidence of that.

Jon organized this picnic years ago as an annual fundraisers for special athletes. This year, we gathered to rename the picnic in Jon’s honor. This honor was bittersweet because it came about as a result of Jon’s passing. At the same time, it gave all concerned great joy to see that the good work Jon started will continue for many years to come.

When I left the picnic that day, I whispered a prayer that we all might touch this world with Jon’s generosity.

Loving God, be with us as we do our best to improve this world as only we can.

©2017 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Always With Us

Turn to me and be safe,
all you ends of the earth.

From Isaiah 45:22

Recent celebrations of our wedding anniversary and our little grandson’s birthday elicited much reminiscing on my part. I’ve enjoyed fond memories especially of my mom. My mom was happiest when we were gathered as family under one roof enjoying one another. How she would have loved to participate in the many events which have occurred since her passing!

After what we expected to be uneventful surgery, my sisters and I were shocked by the news of our mom’s cancer, her four-month life expectancy and the possibility of pain that could darken her smile. When we told our mother the news, she shared our surprise at the diagnosis, but not at the outcome. “We all have to die from something. I’ve had a good long life. I wanted to leave an educated family that contributes and I have. I hope I can do what I want for a while. I hope I can be comfortable. I hope I go without too much trouble. I hope…” We all hoped with her.

In the end, the outcome was precisely what my mom had hoped for. The pain never came and she did everything she hoped to until her last two days when she remained in bed. On the day she left us, my mom’s eyes were closed, but her heart was wide open to the things to come. As for our family gatherings since then, I’m certain my mom has been perched nearby and that she hasn’t miss a thing!

Loving God, thank you for making us capable of loving one another so much that our losses hurt and thank you for filling us with just enough faith and hope to cope.

©2017 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved