Never Give Up!

God leads me in right paths…
From Psalm 23:3

When I consider the state of this world, I wonder why God bothers. At times, when I consider the state of my own heart, I wonder the same. Why do you bother, Dear God? Your gifts are more numerous than the grains of sand which cover this earth’s beaches. Still, we ignore them or misuse them in equally bountiful ways.

Fortunately for me, God takes note of my despair long before it morphs into something unmanageable. In the midst of my laments, images of kindnesses great and small distract my thinking. Moments in nature, in the company of those I love, at prayer and at peace with the moment compel me to utter words of thanks without much thought. While I remain baffled at this transition from hopelessness to contentment, God leans back and admires this bit of Divine Handiwork.

The discouragement which I find is this world of ours is a far more perplexing matter. When I find it so difficult to reel in my own frustrations, how am I to repair the far larger messes which surround us all? Did I write, “How am I to repair…?

As I consider Psalm 23 once again, I understand. God will never cease to lead us in right paths because it is in God’s nature to do so. When one loves as completely as God does, one never EVER gives up on the objects of that love! It’s up to us never to give up on the objects of God’s love either. Like God, we need to have faith in ourselves and in those we’ve been given to love. Only God knows the good we can do.

Loving God, thank you for your ongoing encouragement in things great and small. Remind me never to give up on this world because you will never give up on a single one of us.

©2018 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

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God Always Responds… ALWAYS!

A few weeks ago, Grandpa and I visited the Chicago Botanic Garden with our daughter-in-law and grandsons. As soon as three-year-old Danny returned from preschool that day, we put on our warm coats, packed the car and drove off to Highland Park. When we arrived, Baby Ben nuzzled in the cuddly carrier which Kim had donned for the occasion. We made our way to the outdoor railroad exhibit, a quaint wonderland featuring eighteen model trains which chug along a maze of tracks. Each one snakes its way around beautifully carved wooden replicas of familiar sites such as The Lincoln Memorial and Wrigley Field, Mount St. Helen’s and a Napa Valley vineyard. Though we’d enjoyed the exhibit earlier this past summer, we returned to allow Danny another glimpse of his favorite things: TRAINS!

As we ambled into the exhibit, I noted Danny’s excitement and his extremely cooperative demeanor. Danny remembered our last visit and he seemed determined not to allow anything to prevent him from spending as much time as possible with his beloved trains that day. As it happened, we traced and retraced our steps through the exhibit for two wonderful hours. In the end, Danny’s hunger got the best of him and he happily joined us for the walk to the car. The promise of a hot dog from a favorite local eatery quickly sealed the deal!

As Mike drove to the restaurant, I listened to the chatter in the backseat between Kim and her little boys. Because Ben had awakened during the transfer from baby carrier to car seat, Kim attended to both simultaneously. I smiled as she cooed at Ben while also reading to Danny. Our grandsons seemed quite satisfied with Mommy’s ability to multi-task. When we arrived at the restaurant, Kim toted Ben in his car carrier and Grandpa took Danny’s hand. We ordered that precious hot dog for Danny, another for Grandpa and a salad and wrap for Kim and me. While we waited, Danny once again assumed his sweetest demeanor to coax Mommy into allowing Grandpa to show him the video games and candy machines hidden in a nearby nook. Don’t worry. No purchases were made. Just looking at that amazing array kept Danny’s attention until the smell of that hot dog drew him back to our table.

As we ate, I watched as Danny negotiated with Mommy regarding his lunch. Though he really wanted that wonderful hot dog, he seemed to want the French fries that accompanied it even more. So it was that Danny talked his way into being allowed two fries between each bite of hot dog until both were gone. In the mean time, Ben howled. While she explained the lunch rules to Danny, Kim nuzzled Ben under her cover-up and into position for his lunch. All the while, Kim also managed to enjoy her salad and to converse with Mike and me. I smiled to myself as I recalled similar days with our own sons. As hectic as life proved to be much of the time, Mike and I would do it all again for them. I’m certain Kim and our son Tim feel the same way.

I share this adventure with you because it seems to get the core of today’s passage from Mark’s gospel (Mark 10:46-52). Mark tells us that Jesus and his disciples had just left Jericho amidst a sizable crowd. In spite of the circus around Jesus, Bartimaeus who had been born blind called out, fully expecting Jesus to hear him. Those with Jesus seemed oblivious to the poor man’s plight. They told him to be quiet, perhaps in an effort to keep Jesus from being bothered. Still, Bartimaeus persisted. When Jesus heard him, he asked the others to bring him forward. When Jesus asked what he wanted, Bartimaeus responded, “Master, I want to see.” Jesus responded immediately.

Bartimaeus’ faith in Jesus’ love for him touches me. As I consider his story, my grandsons come to mind. Older brother Danny shares Bartimaeus’ faith. When something is really important to him, Danny knows he can turn to his Mommy and Daddy without risk of disappointment. Though Danny’s every whim isn’t fulfilled, his parents provide him all that is necessary and so much more, like that trip to the railroad exhibit. Ben is only three months old, yet he’s already learned the same. Though his requests often come through tears of hunger rather than sweetly engineered negotiations, Ben’s needs are also fulfilled in generously loving fashion.

God does the same for each of us. Recently, Meg prayed, seemingly without avail, for a measure of peace in a very important area of her life. I listened and I prayed with her, also seemingly without result. Meg’s cause was desperate and reached to the core of her being. Hopeless as her plight seemed, she prayed with all of her might. So did I. We prayed in unison and alone for some time. Then, in a single day, in the midst of seemingly mindless kindness at the hands of a few friends, everything changed. Joy replaced Meg’s despair; confidence replaced her uncertainty; a bright future replaced the dark days which threatened. In that cluster of what seemed to be unremarkable moments, God responded. Just as Jesus responded to Bartimaeus, just and Kim and Tim respond to Danny and Ben, just as Mike and I respond to our sons, God responds to you and me… ALWAYS!

©2018 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

God’s Dwelling Place

When the poor one called out, the Lord heard,
and from all his distress, he saved him.

Psalm 34:7

My heart ached for this poor woman as she poured out her heart to me. She felt engulfed in darkness and found it difficult to look beyond herself for hope or consolation. I assured her that this is the reason that God dwells within each one of us. Regardless of the danger that threatens from the outside, God remains steadfast deep inside. She looked up from her tear-filled tissue as I assured her that true hope and consolation lie within us simply because God is there. After thinking about this for a few minutes, my friend considered her dilemma. “You know, in spite of everything, I somehow knew that I wasn’t alone in this. You’re telling me what I somehow already knew was true.” After voicing our gratitude, we went our separate ways armed to embrace what lay ahead.

Though it’s sometimes difficult to do so, we all need to turn our attention away from the external clamor which threatens and to sit quietly in the loving presence of God. Whether or not we acknowledge our heart’s Loving Tenant doesn’t matter to God. God cares for us either way. Still, when we do acknowledge the Loving Occupant within us, we find consolation in knowing that we’re simply not alone.

Dear God, thank you for making your home within each one of us.

©2018 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

A Miracle Revisited…

From the depths of my despair, I wept before you.
You heard my voice, dried my tears and responded.

Inspired by God’s Absolute Love

We’ve just celebrated my grandson’s birthday. Danny is 3 years old! He’s also Big Brother to sweet Little Brother and all is well. I can’t think of a better way to celebrate than to revisit the journey from despair through hope to absolute joy which accompanied Danny’s arrival…

Because his mom’s contractions began during Week 26 of this pregnancy, reaching Week 32 proved to be a major milestone. Another two weeks would bring Baby close to typical newborn size and development. A day into that week, the telephone rang at 1:00 AM. I heard my husband repeat, “So your water broke?” Tears flowed as they spoke further. My prayers began.

That morning, we learned Baby could remain in place for two weeks while his mom remained in the hospital. Precautions would slow progress and assist the baby’s development. Later, my husband and I headed to church and our usual Sunday morning routine. I admit to complete distraction from everything except my prayers for Baby and his mom. My husband-the-deacon remained to perform baptisms and I returned home. On the way, I called my son. I heard the concern in his voice as he reported that his wife was experiencing a lot of pain. Because my daughter-in-law is healthy, athletic and incapable of complaining, I took this news to heart. It was then that my prayer changed…

I wept as I drove home and when I arrived. I wept as I changed my clothes. I wept until I found the courage to look heavenward. I wept bitterly as I spoke… “Dear God, I can feed the hungry and be there for the lonely. I can listen to those who need me and I can mourn with those in pain. But this? There’s nothing I can do about this. I can’t stop the contractions. I can’t keep that baby in place until the time is right. Only you can fix this. So I beg you for a miracle. I beg you not to allow this baby to be born until he is ready enough. Please give them a miracle because I can’t. This is all up to you.” And on I wept.

Our son called an hour later to report that things had settled down. Three hours after that, he called again: “He’s here! Daniel is here!” All tests indicated that Daniel was behaving like a mini-full-term newborn. His color, weight and reflexes amazed all concerned. Though he would remain in the hospital for a few weeks, there were no indications that Daniel was anything but “ready enough.”

Loving God, I humbly thank you for allowing me the courage to pray as I did and for responding with nothing less than that miracle which continues to bear the sweetest fruit!

©2018 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

God Nudges Us Along with Love

All week, I’d battled a dark mood which simply wouldn’t let up. I admit that I find great satisfaction in “fixing” things. This means that I’ll do whatever it takes to improve troubling situations within reach and within what I perceive to be my realm of influence. Though I’m usually satisfied with my efforts, this hasn’t been the case as of late. Unsettling events globally, nationally and closer to home have made me feel quite helpless these days. In the midst of my frustration, I looked upward and asked, “How do you deal with all of this?” Though our benevolent Creator didn’t respond verbally, I felt certain that God understood the reasons for my question.

In an effort to improve my mindset, I decided to take a walk outdoors. I detoured from my usual trek past the Village Hall, library and post office. Though I normally enjoy ambling along under the trees in the condo complex to the south, I determined that it was time to revisit the cul de sacs of my own neighborhood. This proved to be a helpful choice as the changes on each street distracted me from my woes. Some homes had undergone impressive make-overs while a few others uncharacteristically needed maintenance. I wondered if all was well with the current residents. As always, the array of annual and perennial growth I encountered elicited an appreciative smile. “So nice that people bother to plant,” I told myself. While off the familiar turf of my own street, I passed neighbors I don’t know as they engaged in yard work, entertaining their kids, hosting a garage sale and relaxing on their porches. I greeted each one with a “hello” and a smile. As I made my way home, I marveled at my little neighborhood and all that was transpiring there. Once again, I looked upward. “How do you keep track of us all?” I asked.

When I returned home, I glanced through the patio door on my way to the kitchen for a much-needed glass of water. I noted that this year’s weather has helped to maintain our lawn and flowers. I smiled again as I absorbed my husband’s successful gardening efforts. Colorful blossoms pour in every direction from numerous large pots on our patio. Mike’s precision in watering and fertilizing has paid off. Gratitude filled me up as I enjoyed the fruits of the poor man’s labor. Suddenly, it occurred to me that my encounter with the things closest to me had dispelled my dour mood. “Thank you, God, for the little gifts which replenish our joy,” I prayed.

With my worry neatly tucked away, I went inside to attend to a bit of joyful work. Our son Tim, his wife Kim and our grandson Danny have just welcomed the newest addition to their family. Little Benjamin has been a source of joy to all concerned. The best evidence of this is Danny’s huge smile every time he gets to hold Benjamin. The wise inventor of the Boppy Pillow has made these encounters safe and comfy for all concerned. The joyful task at hand was to wrap Danny’s birthday gift. Challenging as that cumbersome box was, once again, I found myself content with the blessings closest to me.

I share all of this because my mood matched that of Elijah in today’s reading from 1 Kings (19:4-8). Elijah the Prophet was at the peak of discouragement. When I read of Elijah’s mindset, my thoughts immediately returned to the rough patch I’d experienced. Elijah had just rid his community of four hundred fifty prophets of Baal, the idol of Queen Jezebel. Afterward, Elijah discovered that Jezebel sought his very life in response to his transgression. I couldn’t help shaking my head over Elijah’s surprise. While I sympathized with Elijah’s predicament, I wondered what he expected. With nowhere to turn, Elijah abandoned hope and fled to the desert to die. He curled up under a broom tree with the intention of sleeping himself into eternity. Apparently, God had other plans because an angel roused Elijah and offered him sustenance. Though Elijah ate all that the angel offered, he immediately returned to the sleep which he hoped would be his last. God persisted by sending the angel once again to nourish and encourage Elijah. This time, Elijah rose, ate and put his new-found strength to good use. This time, Elijah heeded God’s urging and embraced the new day.

It occurred to me that my rough patch didn’t hold a candle to Elijah’s. After all, no one was seeking to do me bodily harm! Still, sustenance and encouragement came my way in the beauty of my husband’s flowers and in the joy of wrapping a three-year-old’s gift. It didn’t take much, did it? You know, we all experience dark and seemingly fruitless days. The good news here is that God tends to us just as God tended to Elijah. God’s love took root the moment God breathed life into each one of us and it continues ad infinitum. Every moment of every day, God eases us over the rough patches and on to whatever the adventure which lies ahead.

©2018 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

No Doubt About It!

“You may go; your son will live.”
The man believed what Jesus said to him and left
.
John 4:50

It has taken me a lifetime to imitate the man about whom John wrote the words above. I admit that I’ve succeeded only some of the time. This man was a royal official, likely quite used to having his every need met without question. At the time, the man’s child lay dying. He’d likely tapped every resource at his disposal to find a cure. Still, in spite of his position and perhaps out of desperation, the man went to Jesus for help. When Jesus instructed him to go home because his son was recovering, the man believed Jesus and did as he asked. The man wasn’t disappointed.

I’m not sure of what urged this royal official to turn to Jesus. I’m certain that he knew only a fraction of what we have come to know about him. Still, in the face of two thousand years’ proof of God’s love for us in more than a billion lifetimes, I sometimes doubt. I don’t doubt God’s love. What I sometimes doubt is my ability to participate in God’s loving ways by praying. I wonder if my prayers for healing or peace or a turn of events for someone who has asked me to pray make a difference. Then, someone thanks me for praying for his sick brother who has recovered. A friend calls to thank me for praying during her MRI. A neighbor thanks me for praying for her grandchild who will experience birth in a few short weeks. As my prayers continue and this list of thanks grows, I’m assured that every conversation in which God and I engage is worth the time. Whatever God’s response, I, too, will never be disappointed.

Compassionate God, thank you for assuring us that there is never any doubt about your love and the power of our prayers.

©2018 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved