Why Not Now?

They carried to him all those afflicted
with various diseases and racked with pain…
He cured them all.

From Matthew 4:24

My sister and I attended a family baby shower last weekend. Seeing our extended family elicited fond memories of our parents, grandparents and siblings who’ve passed. Though I’m certain of their current bliss, the sting of these losses remains with me. I can still recall the details of their last days among us.

When the people we love are sick, it’s difficult to see God’s hand in their suffering. When depression, addiction or a misguided heart brings them pain, we wonder why this occurs. When their days are numbered, the inevitable isn’t easy to accept. When we recall the healing powers of Jesus, we’re tempted to ask “Why not now?”

When I ponder this and similar questions, I consider Jesus’ experience as one of us. He struggled with trials and tribulations just as we do. If that wasn’t enough, he was nailed to a cross as well. Was Jesus capable of doing all of this because he knew what was coming afterward? I admit that I also know of the things to come. If I’m honest with myself, I must admit that this should be enough to see me through. Our loved ones in the hereafter tell us again and again that this is so. It’s time I listen!

Dear God, when the going gets rough, nudge us along with reminders of the things to come.

©2017 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Courageous Love

Joseph did as the angel of the Lord commanded him.
From Matthew 1:24

Many years ago, my dad passed away in early July. As a result, I’m flooded with memories throughout this month which changed everything for my mom and her children. Some of that change involved Bill, the second love of my mom’s life. This good and brave man became my step-dad. I’m obliged to add the latter adjective because my mother entered this relationship with us six children in tow. I’m still amazed that the six of us didn’t frighten Bill away. Bill’s willingness to persist out of love for my mother -and for us- brings to mind another brave step-father…

When Mary agreed to be the mother of Jesus, she dragged her betrothed Joseph into impossible circumstances. Mary’s out-of-wedlock pregnancy could have caused her to be stoned to death. To protect her, Joseph intended to divorce Mary quietly until he came to fully understand her circumstances. So it was that he took Mary into his home as his wife. The couple had barely settled in when Joseph packed up his pregnant wife to travel to Bethlehem for the census. Later, after the Magi inadvertently alerted the jealous king to Jesus’ birth, Joseph fled with his family to Egypt where they would be safe. Joseph, Mary and Jesus eventually settled in Nazareth rather than returning home in order to avoid the wrath of that king’s son.

Perhaps my step-dad found inspiration in Joseph’s plight. Perhaps the six of us seemed a less daunting challenge than Jesus might have been. Whatever the case, both men inspire the rest of us to do what needs to be done to make homes in our hearts for those God gives us to love.

Dear God, give us Joseph’s and Bill’s courage so we, too, will love one another.

©2017 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Another Farewell

A time to be born, and a time to die;
a time to plant, and a time to uproot the plant.

Ecclesiastes 3:2

Thoughts of our Independence Day revelry linger as do memories of another loss I experienced in early July…

My friend battled cancer. But, after long bouts of chemotherapy, John’s future seemed secure. He was a good man and a good priest. His life made all of the difference in the world all who knew him. Eventually, word spread that John had beaten the cancer and a collective sigh of relief rose to the heavens.

With this good news to inspire me, I headed to my computer to write my next article and to get a letter off to John. My poor friend was a captive fan to whom I mailed my reflections each week. I always included a letter to let him know that we were thinking about him. Because we would observe July 4th a few days later, the holiday set my tone. I wished John a generous measure of freedom with which to get on with his life. My litany began with “…freedom from illness, freedom to breathe in as deeply as you want to –with no pain! I wish you freedom from chemotherapy and I wish you hair! I wish you the freedom to get back to the people and the work you love and the freedom to come and go as you please.”

John didn’t read this letter because he returned to the hospital a day after its writing. Pneumonia had set in and John lacked the stamina to fight it. When John’s life among us ended, he embraced ultimate freedom.

While John enjoys life in the hereafter, I admit to a bit of melancholy. I still miss my friend.

Loving God, I think the most difficult part of this life is saying good-bye. Today, please touch the hearts of all who mourn with your peace.

©2017 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

We Remember

For the Lord loves his people,
and he adorns the lowly with victory.

Psalm 149:4

This morning, my thoughts turn to our service men and women near and far, present and past. Each of these brave souls accepted an obligation which had or has the potential to take them to the point of death. Though some battled doubt, wondering if anything is worth dying for, each one responded to duty’s call. Today, while tens of thousands of flags decorate our lost service-persons’ graves, their present-day comrades carry on for us and for people of good will throughout this world. Today, I honor each one with my gratitude and with my prayers on their behalf.

My Memorial Day remembrances include all loved ones who’ve passed from this life to the next. Though some never wore a military uniform, they embraced roles which proved to be life-giving to the rest of us. Whether our parent, our spouse, our child, or family member or friend, those whom we mourn accepted their obligations as well. At times, they succeeded and their impacts upon our lives were sources of joy. At times, they failed miserably and their impacts upon us were precisely the opposite. Perhaps they walked away from us when we needed them most. Sometimes, we civilians can be tempted to be AWOL from a commitment that seems to require too much. Still, we mourn our lost loved ones, sometimes because of their humanity and sometimes in spite of it.

There is good news in all of this. Often, after we bid them our final farewells, our memories focus less upon our loved ones’ failures. When we reminisce, we recall the happy times we shared. In our family, my father died when most of us were very young. Within a year of his death, the man had become a saint in our collective consciousness. Years later, when our mother married a wonderful, but very different man, I marveled at his bravery. Following in my father’s footsteps was an impossible task. Yet, upon my step-dad’s death many years later, the same phenomenon occurred. We’d dubbed a second father-turned-saint.

This Memorial Day, we celebrate life after this life in the names of those who know it firsthand. We also celebrate the selective memory which prompted our beloved Creator to embrace them in spite of their frailties and perhaps because of them. This Memorial Day, we celebrate knowing that, when our time comes, God will offer the same welcome to you and me.

Thank you, Dear God, for the promise of heaven and for the loved ones with whom we will share it!

©2017 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Welcomed With God’s Love

May your compassion quickly come to us,
for we are brought very low.

From Psalm 79:8

I’d had a very tough week. In the midst of it, my childhood friend shared that his ailing sister-in-law had passed away. I’d done my best to pray for her recovery, but this wasn’t to be. The day after, my friend sent the funeral arrangements. Though my husband was presiding at his cousin’s memorial service the same weekend, I announced that I planned to attend this funeral. Though his plate was as full as mine, Mike agreed that there was time to attend both.

The wounds from that tough week were fresh when I climbed into the passenger side of the car with some relief and inexplicable peace. The relief resulted from my husband’s insistence that he’d drive us into the city for the wake. The peace proved to be a premonition of what was to come. Though I’m in touch with my friend often, I haven’t seen his family in decades. His older sister accompanied him to my mom’s funeral, but that was fourteen years ago. Nonetheless, Mike and I arrived to an extremely warm welcome. When I apologized for what I hoped wasn’t an intrusion, the grieving husband would hear none of it. How grateful I was that we were early enough to miss the crowds and to engage him in conversation. When his sister arrived, she immediately approached to ask, “Are you Mary Ellen?” Of course I am and, at that moment, how wonderful I felt to be me.

The following day, at my husband’s family’s service, their welcome echoed the one we’d received the day before. Though my intent was to bring comfort to those suffering difficult losses, these amazing souls brought much more to me. The difficulties of the past week faded into the joy of being loved.

Most Loving God, thank you for the good souls who take the time to love as you do.

©2017 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Mom’s Gift

I have finished the race;
I have kept the faith.
2 Timothy 4:7

It’s Mother’s Day Eve and I’m counting my blessings. As I assemble my list, I place my mom at the top. Of all that I learned from my mom, it was the grace with which she lived her last days which touched me and taught me most.

Three days before my mom passed away, fatigue confined her to bed. Her daytime attire changed from street clothes to a nightgown to a hospital gown within seventy-two hours. This day, I arrived just as Ruth, her nurse, spooned tiny dollops of ice cream into my mom’s mouth. After giving me my “Hi, Mary” smile, my mom turned to Ruth to whisper, “Thank you for the ice cream.” Afterward, Ruth helped her to the washroom. As Ruth nestled my mom into the wheelchair, my mom whispered again, “Thank you for your help.” Mom held on tightly when Ruth wrapped her arms around her to ease her back into bed. As she left, my mom’s eyes followed Ruth to the door. Ruth turned to wave and my mom smiled in gratitude. Later, when the activity director came to see how she was doing, Mom met her with another of her grateful smiles.

In spite of her impending passing, my mother concerned herself with the people around her. She never complained and was ever grateful for even the smallest kindness, whether or not it was part of ones job or part her children’s duty to their dying parent.

Happy Mother’s Day, Mom!

Dear God, thank you for the gift of my mom. She revealed your generosity, grace and love until the end. Give me the courage to offer the same to those I meet along the way.

©2017 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved