Love In Action

Suppose someone is without clothes and daily food.
If you say, “Go in peace; keep warm and well fed,”
but do nothing about their physical needs, what good is it?

From James 2:15-17

My recent commitment to exchange my worry for action has urged me into “do something” mode. The amazing people God has given me to love add to the mix as they are constant reminders that each of us is gifted in unique ways. As for me, I’m also a constant reminder to myself and to others that we’re also burdened with our personal varieties of frailties. Still, God has placed this world in our hands. It seems to me that this is no empty gesture on God’s part. God created us in God’s own image and likeness. God knows better than we do just how capable we are.

So it is that I’m challenging myself (and anyone who cares to join me) in setting aside our worry regarding the woes which trouble humankind these days, in particular, the COVID-19 pandemic. After praying with great fervor for our entire world, let’s look a bit closer to home. Is there something in our communities, our neighborhoods, our schools, our temples, our churches, our workplaces, our organizations or in our own homes which needs attention? If there is, please join me in asking, “Is there something I can do to help?” Don’t discount even the smallest opportunity to do good. I’m convinced that your efforts and mine will make a difference somewhere to someone every time.

Caring God, help us to love and to care for one another as you care for us.

©2020 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Love One Another

Love one another as I love you.
No one has greater love than this,
to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.”

From John 15:12-13

I admit to lots of anger over the suffering of so many around us. Whether they are my own family and friends nearby or children stricken by illness half a world away, I find it difficult to accept that there’s nothing I can do to help. You see, I’m convinced that we can alleviate some of this world’s suffering if we begin from an inclusive and loving perspective. This isn’t wishful thinking on my part. This is practical thinking.

When we support minimum-wage workers who’ve been laid-off due to the pandemic, we invest in a workforce who will be up and ready to help reopen our economy. When a local restaurant secures a loan to keep employees on the payroll to cook and do carry-outs, we secure one of the staples of our community. When the local barber receives a grant to cover the rent until he can reopen his shop, another neighborhood staple breathes in new life. When we support food pantries and other agencies who reach out to the least among us, we plant seeds of hope along the way.

What a different world this would be if we set aside our own agendas for the good of others! Truly, when we put the suffering ahead of ourselves, we amass goodness for ourselves as well. What a different world this would be if we did lay down our lives for one another. What a different world this would be…

Loving God, you gift us all with the ability to make this world a better place. Help us to realize our potential and to make a positive mark as only we can. And, please dear God, forgive my impatience as I hone my own positive mark-making skills.

©2020 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

The Promise of Hope

You love me, O God, in your goodness…
From Psalm 51:3

I’m grateful for the signs of spring which renew my hope with every new sprout-sighting. My husband and I have been fortunate enough to be able to walk outdoors every day since our stay-at-home life has been in place. We who venture out have become expert at social distancing and at appreciating the fresh air and the natural beauty around us, rain or shine! The best part of this is that the expanse of the outdoors, from the sky above to the earth beneath our feet, puts our current situation in perspective.

You see, I’ve learned something from my walk through Lent and Easter 2020 and our battle with COVID-19. I’ve also learned something from Spring 2020. Each of these experiences promises life after winter, life after the trauma which besets us just now and life after death. Regardless of my success or failure to use the moment at hand optimally, another opportunity awaits me in the moment after that. This doesn’t mean that I’ll intentionally waste even a second of the time I’m given. What it does mean is that, when I make a mistake, I’ll be as patient with myself as God is.

Merciful God, help me to do my best. When I don’t, help me to acknowledge this setback honestly, to assess my regret sincerely, to seek your guidance once again and then to move on.

©2020 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Always Encouraged and Always Loved

The seeds on good ground are those who
hear the word in a spirit of openness,
retain it, and bear fruit through perseverance.

Luke 8:15

I’m coming to the end of my journal of our trip to Israel. Unfortunately, I didn’t fill that journal as much as I might have this time around. I knew this would likely be my last visit to Jesus’ homeland. As a result, I invested far more time in looking than I invested in writing. So it is that I’m struggling a bit regarding what to share next…

To clear my head, I decided to take a walk. I left my cluttered desk and grabbed my coat and gloves. I even wore a hat. As I made my way in the cold along our neighborhood’s deserted streets, I treated myself to a few moments of inspiration. As I ambled along, the clouds parted for a few seconds and I felt the sun’s warmth on my shoulders. I thoroughly enjoyed this much-needed hug. “You are so good, Dear God!” I said to myself. “You offer consolation everywhere, even here in Gurnee!”

As I basked in the sunshine, my thoughts returned to Israel and to the many unexpected encounters with Jesus which occurred there. Though I realized I was in The Holy Land, I didn’t expect that “holiness” to be tangible. Yet it was. At every turn, I caught glimpses of Jesus’ life and that of his closest friends. Since childhood, I’ve tried to imagine the realities of Jesus’ time among us. My encounter with Jesus’ homeland brought that reality into focus.

With that thought, I headed home to write this for you…

Persistent God, thank you for your encouragement which finds us wherever we are and in the midst of whatever we’re facing in the moment at hand.

©2020 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Share The Treasure

I hope you aren’t tiring of reading about my experiences in the Holy Land because I don’t think I’ll ever tire of writing about the treasures I encountered there. It’s difficult to keep good news of any kind to oneself: A cancer remission, a seemingly impossible pregnancy, a job promotion or a scholarship to the college of ones choice. The list goes on and on. I once used this space to share my elation over finding a ring which I thought I’d lost forever. My heart danced when that ring appeared in a drawer I’d searched several times beforehand. The treasures I rediscovered in the Holy Land are at least as valuable and I simply have to share the joy they bring me with you.

Now I realize that this is Lent and that our focus this season is both penitential and transformational. Since childhood, I’ve hoped to emerge from these forty days as an improved version of myself. I tried to do my best within the moments at hand on each of those days. I also attempted to get to know Jesus more intimately as I plodded along. My visits to Jesus’ homeland added an unexpected dimension to my efforts. I’ve always believed that Jesus remains nearby. Nonetheless, when I walked the streets of Nazareth and Capernaum, Magdala and Jerusalem, Jesus’ presence took on unexpected clarity.

I found myself immersed in Jesus’ daily life along with his family and his closest friends. As I walked among the descendants of Jesus’ contemporaries, I felt their urgency. Each one had a place to be. Whether on the way to a joyful encounter or a dreaded interaction, all concerned hurried along. As for me, I imagined those who walked these streets with Jesus. There were the curious ones who’d heard of this new teacher and the sick who hoped that they might find a cure in him. I imagined those with no hope who reluctantly searched just once more for peace in their lives. I imagined those isolated and lonely souls who turned to Jesus because they had no place else to go. Those who shared the streets of Israel with me really didn’t look much different than I. Yet each one spoke a tale of Jesus’ compassionate love. How can I not share this treasure at every opportunity?

On this Second Sunday of Lent, we listen once again to the story of the Transfiguration of Jesus (Matthew 17:1-9). By the time Jesus invited Peter, James and John to accompany him up that mountainside, the disciples had begun to appreciate the treasure they had found in him. On that particular day, Jesus chose to reveal something quite remarkable about himself. Jesus’ lessons up to that point included his parables, references to the scriptures and to The Law and his own interpretation of these things. More importantly, Jesus had reinforced every word with his own example. Jesus left no doubt that generously loving one another is the most efficient means to living righteously and to loving God. On that mountainside, Jesus gifted Peter, James and John with a glimpse of the treasure which lay at the end of Jesus’ ministry and at the end of his life. When Jesus took on his “after life” appearance, he offered his closest friends a glimpse of the glory which awaited them as well.

I’m certain that Peter, James and John were never the same after that day. They survived the terrible events which eventually stole Jesus from them because that image of Jesus in his glory remained etched into their memories and onto their hearts. Though Jesus cautioned his three friends not to speak of what they’d seen until he’d risen, I imagine that Peter, James and John shared this treasure long beforehand. It’s difficult to keep such treasures to oneself. I’m convinced of this because of my own eagerness to share my experience of Jesus in his homeland.

It was in Jesus’ homeland that I was gifted with a transfiguration of sorts as well. I peered into the eyes of an Israeli who likely resembled Jesus’ ancestors. I was inches from a tiny oil lamp dated to Jesus’ time and referenced in his parables. I sailed the Sea of Galilee with a Jewish man who had found Jesus in the pilgrims he’d met on his boat. I walked the path to Gethsemane which was painfully more familiar than I’d hoped it would be. All of this I did in the quiet company of Jesus and Peter, James and John and the rest. Yes, the love which propelled Jesus along his way was quite tangible in the ruins around me. That love touched Peter, James and John on the mountainside. How can I not share the treasure of that love which touches you and me today?

Lent 2020 provides each of us the opportunity to rediscover the treasure which is Jesus’ life among us. Jesus himself invites us to take his words and works to heart, to recognize God’s unconditional love for us and to share these treasures at every opportunity.

©2020 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Come, Find Me…

Let whoever is simple turn in here…
Come eat of my food and
drink of the wine I have made.

From Proverbs 9:4-5

Three days before we left for Israel, I surprised myself with my packed suitcase and my unexpected calm. Before flying anywhere, I normally fret for days regarding what to bring and how to keep my bag under 50 pounds. This time, I managed to stow everything I needed in a 32-pound mid-size bag. A day later, my husband had done the same. The morning of our departure, we were ready long before our friend arrived to drive us to the airport. All was well.

As we drove along, I enjoyed the view while absentmindedly listening to the news. When the report turned to continuing unrest in the Middle East, my thoughts turned to those earlier trips to Israel. Both times, security in and out was very tight. Yet, both times, I also felt welcomed in this country which is surrounded by its enemies. Though I’d heard that Israel’s own people were often at odds with one another, I’d found that unexpected friendships had been forged among them. As we drove on, I felt an unexplained calm as I looked forward to the next eight days…

In the terminal, my husband and I checked in with our tour leader. Nancy thanked us for joining the group and she made us feel as though our presence made all of the difference in the world to her. When the sunshine pouring into the terminal rested its warm hand on me, I realized that our presence always makes a difference. Wherever I found myself for the next eight days, it was up to me to determine what that difference would be.

Dear God, you infuse every moment you give us with opportunities to find you in one another. Help me to make the most of each of these encounters.

©2020 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved