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

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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

A Psalm for Everything!

Jesus went up to the mountain to pray,
and he spent the night in prayer to God.

Luke 6:12

While walking the mall, I ran into a friend from church whom I haven’t seen in a while. She’s been there very week, but I’ve been busy at the parish information desk. As a result, we haven’t had the chance to talk. Our matching smiles indicated that we were both grateful for this chance encounter. As we walked along, my friend told me that she’d been meaning to call to thank me for a suggestion I’d given her a while back. We had both been struggling with circumstances we share and she wanted to let me know that she’d finally been able to pray productively regarding them. My friend reminded me of that I told her: “When in doubt, go to the psalms. There’s a psalm for anything and everything we can’t seem to put into words for ourselves.” Apparently, I was right because what she found had helped her to express herself meaningfully and to realize that our frustration with this life is nothing new.

Later, when I arrived at home, I decided to take my own advice. I perused the Book of Psalms for a refresher. I couldn’t help smiling as I told myself, “Yes, there is a psalm for every occasion under heaven!” By the way, I did find the consolation I needed as well.

Dear God, thank you for those wise psalmists who inspire our prayer in so many beautiful ways!

©2018 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

We NEVER Walk Alone!

A few weeks ago, I finished my umpteenth reading of a favorite book which addresses the afterlife and our own struggles as we make our way there. As I closed the familiar volume, I wondered if the author had written anything more recently. When I entered his name online, images appeared of my now-ragged paperback and two additional titles. I immediately announced to my poor husband that we should expect a package in the next few days as I was ordering both new books and two extra copies of my favorite. Since my copy is no longer suitable to share, I need these extra copies to lend to interested friends. After placing that order, I went to the fullest and most frequently visited shelf of my bookcase. Though I’d intended to purge my collection to make room for my newly discovered prizes, I realized that I couldn’t part with any of my books.

I’ve been a student of death and dying since childhood. By the time I was nine years old, my uncle, both grandfathers and my dad had passed away. My remaining family members responded to these losses with absolute faith in our loved ones’ newfound heavenly bliss and I fully believed them in this regard. Still, when I began college and discovered that there were sources other than the Bible and catechisms to be found which address death and life after death, I immediately enrolled in a class which explored these topics. One of our required textbooks was written by Dr. Elizabeth Kubler-Ross, a medical pioneer who defined the stages of dying as she cared for her terminal patients. Dr. Kubler-Ross is also likely the first medical doctor to admit publicly that she believed her patients’ seemingly incredible stories regarding their near-death experiences and the hereafter. It’s safe to say that I’ve read almost every book written on these topics since. I admit that, when given the chance, I can speak ad infinitum regarding all of this. When asked why I’m so interested in these things, I consistently answer from my heart: “They remind me that this life is do-able and worth all of our effort!”

The numerous determined authors who chronicle the stories of others or who write of their own experiences in these areas do so because they can’t help sharing their remarkable news with all who will listen. My favorite book and its counterparts have certainly added a new dimension to my faith and substantiated my hope regarding eternal life. These writings inspire me to plug away regardless of the difficulties at hand because I know what lies ahead at the end of this journey. I’m quite certain they’ve done the same for many who journey with me.

On this Pentecost Sunday, we celebrate Jesus’ efforts in convincing his disciples of the same. Jesus’ years of teaching through both his word and his example had been blurred in the midst of his passion and death and throughout the days which followed. The disciples felt terribly alone. Fear paralyzed them and they hid, wondering all the while if they, too, would hang from a cross. In spite of all that Jesus had said and done, they trembled. Though Jesus could have moved on to heaven without looking back, he returned to encourage his friends. Jesus appeared to Mary Magdalene to offer her the gift his peace. When Jesus appeared among Peter and the rest, he didn’t chastise or rebuke them for deserting him. He didn’t review his lessons or question their understanding. The first thing Jesus said to them was, “Peace be with you.” Jesus’ purpose throughout these post-resurrection encounters was to fill up the disciples with his enduring presence and his enduring peace. If they believed that Jesus was with them in everything, they would endure. If they believed that they would survive their own deaths as Jesus had, they would prosper. Jesus’ final lesson assured all who would listen that this life is indeed do-able because none of them would be alone in their efforts. One day, each one would cross into eternal life just as well.

The scriptures tell us that, after Jesus’ ascension into heaven, the disciples returned to hiding. So it was that on the first Pentecost God’s Holy Spirit rushed in with a dramatic reminder of God’s enduring peace and presence in their lives. The wind and rumbling walls quickly drew their attention, renewed their hope and nudged them into action. The fire within them finally ignited fully and urged them out onto the streets of Jerusalem to spread God’s word. Suddenly, the things to come seemed within reach and the disciples’ lives became do-able after all.

As for me, I’ll continue to read about our journeys into the afterlife. Every word will underscore my conviction that God’s peace abounds and that God is with us in everything regardless of how alone we may feel at times. With every page I turn, I will celebrate this reality and reaffirm my conviction that, when all is said and done, this life is do-able and worth all of our effort. None of us will ever walk alone and we’ll all end this journey in God’s good company.

©2018 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved