Where Are My Keys?

I give you the keys to the kingdom of heaven.
From Matthew 16:19

I’m sure it was quite a surprise to Peter that he was chosen to lead the first Christian community. Peter had no idea of what being given the keys to the kingdom entailed. Still, Jesus entrusted him with this responsibility. Though Peter was thick-headed and cowardly at times, in the end, Peter allowed his heart to direct him. He is the one who first said aloud what the other disciples feared to whisper even to themselves. In the end, after Jesus was crucified and risen, it is Peter who led the disciples to share the good news of God’s love for us with the world.

As a child, I told myself that I would have been much different from the disciples if I had walked with Jesus. I couldn’t understand how anyone could question a thing Jesus said or did. Today, I know better. In spite of the numerous and generous ways in which God has been revealed to me, I question and worry and despair with the best of them. For us humans, I guess seeing is believing.

The problem is that we fail to see. The treasure lying before our eyes and within our hearts is invaluable. Nonetheless. we fail to see what God has given us. Still, God entrusts us with the keys of the kingdom as well. Like Peter, we’re invited to follow our hearts and to reveal God’s love in all that we say and do. Like Peter, our imperfections aren’t meant to keep us from the good we can do. Today, this seems more important than ever.

Trusting God, you have made us the caretakers of your word and works. You’ve given us the keys to your kingdom. Help us never to misplace them and to always use them well.

©2019 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

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Nestle In God’s Embrace

Every morning, I set the tone for the day by reading from a daily devotional. My favorite features dozens of writers. Each contributes six or seven of the reflections which appear throughout the book. Regardless of the author of the day, I’m consistently touched by the morsels of wisdom nestled among his or her words. Whether or not the story which unfolds appeals to me, the author’s intent always manages to touch my heart. Some mornings, I add favorite passages from Henri Nouwen and Max Lucado. I’m most grateful for their generosity in sharing their deeply personal relationships with God with the rest of us. As I struggle to do the same through my own book, my admiration for these writers continues to grow exponentially.

After I opened my devotional this morning, I returned to this writing. Because I completed my research yesterday, I planned to write all of this fairly quickly. That was until the pile of notes resting next to me spilled over onto my keyboard. I had to re-stack them before I could type another word. In the process, I found a small sticky note which read, “Nestle, Don’t Wrestle”. I laughed as I recalled this old phrase. Long ago, I’d read about someone who’d hoped to write a book about our struggles throughout this life and our propensity to ignore the precise solution to all of our problems. This woman intended to title the book, Nestle, Don’t Wrestle. She’d hoped that her text would convince all of the world that we must stop wrestling with God and insisting that God solve our problems our way. I laughed again as I admitted to myself that I’m guilty of just that.

Of course, I couldn’t let go of this concept of nestling in God’s care rather than wrestling alone with life’s challenges. I wondered if the person I’d read about had actually written her book. After searching online for some time, I realized that this potential author had likely not realized her dream. I found no books of that title anywhere. What I did find was Corrie ten Boom’s DON’T WRESTLE, JUST NESTLE* which was published long before the person I’d read about had voiced her dream. Still, the titles were so similar that I had to learn more. I discovered that Corrie ten Boom’s book is still available and that it can also be downloaded for free. I also found several short reviews which indicated that this book had indeed offered the same advice which that potential author had hoped to share years later. That advice? To take God at God’s word and to place our troubles into God’s capable hands. This frees us to embrace the moments at hand with hope. Corrie ten Boom and her family lived in The Netherlands. When the German Army invaded her country, she turned her home into a hideout where she protected many Jewish people. As a result, she and her family were arrested and imprisoned in a concentration camp where her sister died. In spite of this heart-wrenching experience, Corrie’s absolute hope in God’s care remained. As I read on, I discovered that Corrie’s relationship with God was steadfast throughout this suffering and her lifelong efforts to speak out about God’s love and forgiveness and our need to forgive.

So many scripture passages echo God’s invitation to us all to nestle and not to wrestle our way through this life alone! Isaiah (Isaiah 66:10-14c) tells us. “…you shall be carried in her arms, …as a mother comforts her child, so I will comfort you…” God promises to carry each one of us through everything. We mustn’t waste our energy wrestling with our problems alone. We mustn’t wrestle with God to convince God to do things our way. Rather, we must ease into God’s arms with all of our problems in tow. When we hand the things which trouble us over to God, we free ourselves to enjoy the peace that only God’s embrace can offer. In his letter to the Galatians (6:14-18), Paul expounds upon the peace he found when he opened himself up to Jesus. Paul had persecuted and killed hundreds of Jesus’ followers because they’d moved beyond The Law. The Law was part and parcel of their Jewish identity, yet many of the people had embraced the teachings of Jesus as well. After meeting Jesus himself in an astonishing post-resurrection encounter, Paul realized that our acknowledgement of God’s love for us and our need to love one another were what truly mattered. With that, Paul took in all that Jesus had taught and he made Jesus’ mission his own. Luke’s gospel (Luke 10:1-12, 17-20) tells us that Jesus had spread his teaching by sending out seventy-two disciples two-by-two. He asked them to set aside their own concerns and their own lives in order to share God’s hope and enduring love with those who hadn’t yet heard of these things. Jesus sent them on their way to offer God’s message with the hope that it would take root within others who would go on to share his word and to live accordingly.

As I consider my “on paper” acquaintance with both my would-be author friend and Corrie ten Boom, I wonder if they realize just how far-reaching their sharing of their relationships with God has been. Though that would-be author may never have written a word beyond her title, she certainly added a spark to my relationship with God. Corrie ten Boom endured far more suffering than most of us ever will, yet she insisted that we nestle in God’s loving care. Corrie added to that spark between God and me as well! It seems to me that we’re all called to spread the good news of God’s love for us. Whether we travel two-by-two or go it alone, each of us is invited to believe for ourselves and to share with all who will hear us that there is a place in God’s arms for every one of us.

©2019 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

*Corrie ten Boom. Don’t Wrestle, Just Nestle. Published January 1, 1979 by Fleming H Revell Co (first published 1978)

Find The Courage

But Jesus turned to them and said, “Daughters of Jerusalem,
do not weep for me, but weep for yourselves and for your children.”

Luke 23:28

The Eighth Station: Jesus Meets The Women of Jerusalem

Once again, it was the women who approached Jesus. In spite of the soldiers’ threat, they stepped up to offer their tears on Jesus’ behalf. Jesus responded by consoling them. Jesus had embraced the road which lay before him. So it was that he encouraged the women to do the same. Jesus made no empty promises regarding the difficulties of life on this earth. What Jesus did offer was his example of persistence and his certainty in the things to come.

It isn’t easy for any of us to live as Jesus did. Though we may not be called to carry a wooden cross beam that is twice our size, we’re often called to do the right thing in difficult circumstances. Sometimes, our choices seem small in the grand scheme of things. Sometimes, our choices have far-reaching consequences. Always, what we choose to do makes a world of difference to us and to those we have been given to love both nearby and far away.

Today, I find courage in those brave women who approached Jesus. Today, I’ll respond as they did to everyone I meet along the way.

Loving God, you are with me in everything I do. Help me to be brave enough to behave accordingly.

©2019 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

You’ll Know…

Whatever place does not welcome you
or listen to you, leave there and
shake the dust off your feet…

Mark 6:11

I find it extremely difficult to shake the dust off my feet. I usually find peace in the familiar and I’m reluctant to make a change when the status quo is working. The few instances in which I’ve done so were the result of impending danger, both physical and psychological, to someone I love or to me. This propensity to stay connected is partially genetic and partially learned. My parents opened their door to everyone. My mom often said, “I leave the door open. If people choose not to come in, it’s their loss.” Jesus welcomed everyone who crossed his path as well. Since I subscribe to Jesus’ way of life, I try to welcome people as he did.

Still, there are people who really aren’t good for us. They may not cause physical harm, but they do take a psychological or spiritual toll on us. I find that if my gut is having a strong reaction to someone, I need to listen. This doesn’t necessarily mean that I need never to speak to this person again. However, it may mean that I should limit our contact. Sometimes, this limit can only be achieved when I vacate the premises. The same can be true of situations, be they our jobs, circles of friends, neighborhoods and even our churches. I need to listen to my gut regarding these as well.

This may seem like an odd topic for a spiritual reflection, I know. However, I have good reason for sharing this. Sometimes, good people think that part of “being good” is to allow themselves to be hurt unnecessarily. I truly believe that God could not disagree more.

Dear God, keep us safe and wise. Help us to recognize harm and guide us away from its source.

©2019 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Your Truly Valuable Life

While sorting through yet another shelf in my bookcase, I came across something a fellow writer introduced me to more than a decade ago. I couldn’t help smiling as I thumbed through a few pages. This book had enticed me to read three others by the same author. For One More Day, Tuesdays with Morrie and Have a Little Faith are remarkable reads. Still, the fourth book, The Five People You Meet in Heaven, made me a true fan. I set down that book and ran to my computer. “I wonder if he’s written anything new,” I asked myself. As soon as I searched his name, an entry appeared which read, “Mitch Albom new book 2018.” When I clicked on the link, I found the summary of an interview with the author. As I read, I happily discovered that Mitch Albom has written a subsequent book, The Next Person You Meet In Heaven. It’s a sequel to the beloved tale which hooked me. Because it’ll be available in October, I turned my calendar to that page and made a note: Look for Albom’s book! With that, I remembered that this writing needed attention. So it was that I left my cluttered bookshelf for another day…

As I considered today’s feast, I realized that my encounter with those books was providential. John the Baptist was Jesus’ much beloved cousin whose life made an amazing difference to his contemporaries. Though John likely had no idea of the extent of his impact, his parents new that he was destined for greatness from the very beginning. God knew the same. Mitch Albom’s book, The Five People You Meet in Heaven, chronicles the last hours in the life of Eddie, an elderly man who wasn’t at all certain that he’d accomplished anything of value in his life. The story which unfolds dispels Eddie’s doubt and that of the rest of us in this regard.

Eddie had spent his adult years working at an amusement park. He married his first love, but sadly enough he and Marguerite were unable to have children. When Marguerite passed away at the onset of their middle years, Eddie was left completely alone. At this point, he was convinced that nothing else in his life mattered. Loneliness filled the decades which followed. Sadness over a life seemingly wasted compounded Eddie’s loneliness. He wondered why he’d been born at all. The mistakes made and the opportunities missed which punctuated Eddie’s memory compounded his misery. The single distraction that numbed his pain was his work. Every day, Eddie moved through a cycle of meticulous safety checks on the rides in the amusement park which employed him. It was Eddie’s expert knowledge of that work which brought about his passing. After he breathed his last, Eddie encountered five people waiting for him on his way to heaven. Each one shared a lesson which helped Eddie to understand the true meaning of life –not just any life, but Eddie’s particular life among his fellow humans.

Life-changing experiences often involve the very question Eddie asked himself when his wife passed away. When we look over our shoulders at our past accomplishments and our failures, they seem not to add up to much of anything. For some reason, we focus upon the rocks and ruts on the road we’ve traveled while being completely oblivious of the flowers and trees we’ve planted along the way. Like Eddie, we overlook the growth and the goodness which resulted from the hard times we’ve survived. Sadly, this focus on the negatives behind us too often keeps us from embracing the opportunities which lie ahead. Fortunately, as was the case with Eddie, we come to our senses through the support of those who love us and a bit of Divine Intervention.

You know, when John the Baptist was conceived, his parents had no doubt regarding the value of his life. John’s mother Elizabeth is the cousin of Jesus’ mother. She became pregnant in her old age which was viewed as an amazing blessing. Pregnant herself, Mary journeyed a long distance to visit Elizabeth. Later, when Elizabeth gave birth, the scriptures tell us that an angel rendered the child’s name to his parents. When the baby’s father presented that given name, he couldn’t help glorifying God. Those present whispered among themselves that John must have been destined for great things because God was already present in the little boy’s life.

The early days of our lives aren’t chronicled in scripture. Still, when God breathed life into us, God sent us on our way to live meaningfully as well. John the Baptist’s greatness was evident in his determination to do the work which God had set before him. Somehow, John knew that God was with him all the while. You and I are invited to embrace the work of our lives as well. Had Eddie opened his eyes a bit earlier, he would have seen the value of his seemingly mundane existence. As it happened, the five people Eddie met in heaven explained everything and Eddie finally experienced peace. You and I needn’t wait for heaven to find meaning in our lives. God reveals it again and again through our simple, yet powerful encounters with every soul we meet along the way.

©2018 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Take Care of You

Whatever place does not welcome you
or listen to you, leave there and
shake the dust off your feet…

Mark 6:11

Every new year urges me to take stock of my life and to adjust as needed to make the most of every day. I know New Year 2018 is already 25 days old, but better late than never! This year, I once again acknowledge that I find it extremely difficult to shake the dust off my feet. I find peace in the familiar and I’m reluctant to change things when the status quo works. Still, just because things as they are function, I’m not necessarily making the most of the opportunities before me. What am I to do?

This propensity to stay connected to others is partially genetic and partially learned. My parents opened their door to everyone. My mom often said, “If people choose not to come in, it’s their loss.” Jesus welcomed everyone who crossed his path as well. So it is that I try to do the same.

Still, there are people and situations which aren’t necessarily good for us. They may not cause us physical harm, but they do take a psychological or spiritual toll. I find that if my gut is having a strong reaction to someone or something, I need to listen. This doesn’t necessarily mean that I need to completely remove myself from a given person or setting. However, it may mean that I should limit contact.

This may seem like an odd topic for a spiritual reflection, I know. However, I have good reason for sharing this. Sometimes, good people think that part of “being good” is to allow themselves to be hurt unnecessarily. I truly believe that God could not disagree more.

Dear God, keep us safe and wise. Help us to recognize harm and guide us away from its source.

©2018 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved