Always Encouraged!

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. I admit to struggling a bit regarding what to share next. To clear my head, I decided to engage in a mindless errand. I left my cluttered desk and grabbed my car-wash coupon. My car was a mess. Though I habitually keep the interior free of clutter, the exterior hasn’t been washed for over a month. While treating my vehicle to a serious cleaning, I treated myself to a few moments of inspiration.

The waiting area at the car wash was empty so I settled into the chair of my choice. I picked one which allowed by back to face the window. While I waited, 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 in a car-wash!”

As I basked in the sunshine, my thoughts returned to Israel and 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, I retrieved my car and headed home to write.

Persistent God, thank you for your encouragement which finds us wherever we are.

©2018 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved


Put Our Love For Jesus To Work

We’re just a few days into Lent 2018 and I’m wondering about my progress. I approached Ash Wednesday with my Lenten commitment intact. I decided to use my experience in the Holy Land to guide me through this precious season. In Israel, I looked over our itinerary each morning with great expectation. Because I’d been there before, the sites listed were familiar territory. I didn’t worry about whether or not I wore the right shoes or if I needed to wear layers or if our destination would measure up to the hype in my guidebook. Rather, I pictured what I’d seen the year before and rekindled those unmistakable feelings of belonging which had filled me up. Though this was Jesus’ homeland, I felt that it was my homeland as well. So it was that I embraced every day of this second trip with the certainty that I’d find Jesus or a dear friend of his along the way. Rather than being surprised by the images beyond the tour bus windows, I happily anticipated what I saw. On Ash Wednesday, I told myself that I would approach my Lenten journey in like manner. Rather than being surprised by what lies ahead during the next forty days, I will once again anticipate finding Jesus and many of his dear friends along the way.

I’m happy to report that my unconventional approach to Lent 2018 has been fruitful. Though I’m habitually engaged in one-sided conversations with our Patient Creator, I’ve made the time to listen between every dozen or so lines of my monologue. Though I haven’t “heard” a word in response, I’ve been blessed with a sense that God is indeed attentive to me. Honestly, I’m convinced that God smiles upon our efforts whenever we try to do our best. From the beginning of time, God has pursued humankind with the energy of a young man smitten by the love of his life. God remains at our sides even when we attempt to run away. Through it all, God uses every means to entice us into a relationship. This Lent, I’ve allowed the holy places which Jesus frequented to breathe new life into my relationship with him. After all, it is Jesus who revealed the fullness of Divine Love to us. Though Jesus preached eloquently, his responses to others provided the purest examples of that love. Jesus offered compassion, acceptance and mercy to everyone who crossed his path. Whether a Pharisee who followed him in secret, a despised tax collector, an adulterous woman or an ostracized leper, Jesus welcomed him or her into his company. Jesus peered deeply into each of their troubled hearts and responded with his assurance of God’s abundant love. Indeed, Divine Love has given me much to anticipate and much to accomplish every day this Lent.

Though I’ve heard this account repeatedly since childhood, I find new meaning in the Transfiguration story today. Mark’s gospel (9:2-10) tells us that Jesus led his unsuspecting disciples up a mountainside where Jesus suddenly appeared in a dazzling aura. With Elijah and Moses at his side, Jesus revealed the essence of eternity to his incredulous friends. If this wasn’t enough, that Loving Voice announced from the clouds, “This is my beloved son. Listen to him.” With those words, the God of Israel underscored everything that Jesus had said and done. I think that poor Peter, James and John were at a disadvantage during this encounter. How could they have anticipated what Jesus revealed to them that day? Still, I’d like to think that they kept that image of Jesus in all of his glory in the back of their minds during the troubled days which lay ahead. Perhaps after witnessing Jesus’ transfiguration, they were equipped to anticipate the things to come with a bit more bravery. Though it proved to be difficult to embrace their troubles much of the time, Jesus had given them something to cling to in the worst of them.

My visits to Israel were amazing on many levels. Still, their most meaningful impact came in the numerous ruins from Jesus’ life among us. His childhood neighborhood, the synagogue where he taught, Magdala, the Sea of Galilee and the Garden of Gethsemane are a few of the places which enhanced my understanding of all that Jesus did. The love which propelled Jesus in those places compels me to anticipate Jesus’ company on the road ahead this Lent and always. That love inspires me to try my best to do my best to respond to others as Jesus did.

Lent 2018 provides each of us a unique opportunity to cling to our own inspiring images of Jesus. The glorious Jesus they encountered on that mountainside gave the disciples the courage to continue to follow him. The humble Jesus who walked among the poor inspired their own service of those in need. After Jesus’ death, it was the disciples who attracted the sick, the suffering and the despised. This Lent, you and I are invited to join the first disciples in savoring Jesus’ friendship and in making Jesus’ ways our own. Jesus leaves it to us to decide how we’ll use our love for him to do this as only we can.

©2018 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

A Plan for Lent

Rend your hearts, not your garments,
and return to the Lord,
for gracious and merciful is God.

From Joel 2:13

Ash Wednesday has a way of sneaking up on me every year. Though I’m part of the team who prepares for the liturgical seasons at our parish, this activity often distracts me from making my own plans for this special time of year. This year, I’m happy to share that my trip to Israel helped me to get an early start in this regard.

While in Israel, I attended to the places which marked the milestones in Jesus’ life: Mary’s home and a neighbor’s home in Nazareth, the local synagogue and the Jordan River where John baptized Jesus, the excavated streets of Magdala where Jesus met his friend Mary, Capernaum where Jesus taught his friends, the Sea of Galilee where they fished and Jerusalem where everything ended and everything began. Because this was my second visit to these places, I often tuned out our wonderful guide so I could tune into my heart. In the process, I spoke often to this Jesus who has made all of the difference in the world to me. If he had done nothing more than to offer his word and his example regarding God’s love for us, this would have been enough for me.

On this first day of Lent 2018 and every day until Easter, I hope to return to one event from Jesus’ life and to find the lesson there which is intended for me. Just as Jesus took the time to teach his disciples all they needed to know, he does the same for me. Hopefully, I will take each lesson to heart and behave accordingly.

Loving God, thank you for Jesus who revealed your love for us in everything he said and did.

©2018 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Our Parcels of Holy Land

Know that the Lord is God;
God made us, God’s we are;
God’s people, the flock God tends.

Psalm 100:3

I admit that a trip to the Holy Land was never on my bucket list. My dislike for small places determined long ago that a ten-hour flight was out of the question. Still, when a friend in the travel business mentioned an upcoming tour of Israel, I felt compelled to hear more. At a subsequent gathering where she explained the itinerary, I nudged my husband and said, “I think we should go.” The poor man retained his composure in spite of his complete shock that it was I who was initiating this venture. Mike quickly agreed before I had the chance to change my mind.

The other day, I shared that, some months ago, this tour director asked my husband if he would consider assisting her with this year’s venture to the Holy Land. Mike immediately agreed to do so. Much to my own surprise, I offered to go along as well. As soon as this possibility presented itself, images of the treasures we’d encountered last year filled me up. Nazareth, Cana, Magdala, Caesarea, the Sea of Galilee, Jerusalem and Gethsemane were only a flight away. How anxious I was to reunite with each of these holy places! At the same time, I was happy to return home the other day.

As the psalmist wrote, you and I are important members of God’s flock and every place we find ourselves has the potential to become holy land. It was an absolute joy to help shepherd my fellow pilgrims in Israel. If I take God’s shepherding to heart, I must continue the job here at home.

Dear God, be with us as we strive to make every place we walk a bit of holy land.

©2018 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Touch The Moment with Love

This people honors me with their lips,
but their hearts are far from me…

From Mark 7:6

My assessment of my circumstances and myself as New Year 2018 continues is moving along. The past few days’ reflections give me reason to pause. I’ve been extremely blessed by many good people in my life who’ve shared God’s love with me. It occurs to me that a priority for this new year is for me to be diligent in doing the same. Though I may not be able to counter all of the ills of this world or of my own life, I can do something to bring God’s love to the moments at hand.

I’m not going to stand on a street corner quoting scripture, preaching or reading my posts to those who happen by. However, I can offer a smile as I pass my fellow humans. I can be patient while waiting in line at the store, using my time to pray rather than to fume. I can smile at that noisy toddler in church so her parents realize that their efforts are appreciated. I can listen to the lonely gentleman who seeks out a willing ear every time I look in his direction. I can phone an ailing friend and visit a parishioner at the nursing home. I can take the grandkids while my son and daughter-in-law enjoy an evening out. I can also donate groceries to the food pantries my parish supports. Whenever I encounter an opportunity, I need to embrace it! This is the best way for me to spend New Year 2018. I will share God’s love along the way to New Year 2019!

Dear God, help me to bring your love to others every moment of every day.

©2018 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

The Gift of You

Tell it to your children,
and your children to their children,
and their children to the next generation.

Joel 1:3

When my extended family gathered at our house over the holidays, we gathered at the table to play a new game. While we organized our play pieces and reviewed the rules, I ran upstairs to get a toy vacuum for my grandson. We’d settled down after our meal and it was good time for Danny to busy himself with cleaning up. On the way, I couldn’t resist pausing at our family picture wall. This collection includes photos from my childhood. Many of those pictured have passed away including my parents, sister and brother who have joined the heavenly host. Because I didn’t want to delay our game-playing, I left my reminiscing until I said my last good-byes that evening. After the family left, I returned to that wall to consider each one of my loved ones passed. Though I know that they’re all alive and well in another place, I miss their physical presence.

I stared longingly at the photos of so many who have “moved on.” Each one touched my life as no one else has or ever will. Each one, with his foibles and her imperfections, will never be replaced. Each one added something special to my life and to life on this earth which no one else will replicate or replace. I whispered a prayer of thanks for them all.

This New Year 2018, I will pray that we all become good souls who thrive in spite of our imperfections because we generously share ourselves and our gifts with one another.

Thank you, dear God, for the good souls who so creatively brighten our lives.

©2018 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved