Gifted with Heavenly Peace

A few weeks ago, Grandpa Mike and I spent the day with our grandsons. Big Brother Danny attended preschool that morning while Grandpa and I entertained little Ben. Though this five-month-old smiles perpetually, especially for Grandpa, he didn’t do so that morning. He was hungry and tired and simply wanted Mommy to feed him and rock him to sleep. Mommy had done this just before she left for the day. Afterward, poor Ben had to rely upon me and my meager resources to soothe him. Grandpa warmed a bottle while I rocked Ben and cooed my best. I sang a string of little songs which I habitually compose on the run for whichever grandchild is on hand. Though Ben normally smiles in return, that day, he howled all the louder. When I’d sapped my creativity, I walked Ben to the Christmas Tree with the hope that the lights would distract him from his woe. On the way, I sang Silent Night. By the time I voiced “all is calm, all is bright” Ben stopped crying and began to coo in response. Finally, Ben’s milk was warm. Though he normally guzzles these liquid feasts as quickly as possible, this time Ben slowly savored every drop. As for me, I continued to sing Silent Night until Ben finished that bottle and went to sleep. As I lay him in his crib, I whispered a prayer of gratitude for Ben’s willingness to “…sleep in heavenly peace.”

I tiptoed back to the family room where Grandpa was sitting in the quiet. Danny’s preschool bus wouldn’t bring him home for another hour, so we basked in “heavenly peace” as well. We chatted about the frenzy of the days ahead, finalized our Christmas lists and tweaked our shopping plans. In spite of the uneasiness in the world-at-large around us, we voiced our gratitude for the blessings of our family, our friends and one another. Throughout that brief reprieve, we savored every minute of the heavenly peace we’d found…

Not long after we celebrate this Fourth Sunday of Advent, we’ll hug our loved ones and greet those we meet with a joyful “Merry Christmas!” In spite of the imperfections of this life which will persist through December 24 and 25, we’ll embrace the heavenly peace we encounter. That peace will come in the company of our loved ones. That peace will come as our sometimes imperfect Christmas preparations evolve into perfect expressions of our affection for one another. Though our human quirks will punctuate our Christmas festivities far more often than our Hallmark expectations prefer, heavenly peace will remain intact. We will savor that peace just as Little Ben savors every drop of his milk because it is within this peace that we find true joy and it is within this peace that God dwells. I’ve insisted throughout Advent 2018 that we’ve had no need to wait for God’s coming because God has been with us all along. Christmas simply offers us another opportunity to celebrate God’s presence among us and within us.

Today, Luke’s gospel (Luke 1:39-45) encourages us to embrace heavenly peace in our lives in our joy and in our sorrow. Mary did this in spite of her frightening circumstances. Though with child herself, Mary made the three-day journey to visit her elderly cousin Elizabeth who was also pregnant. It’s unlikely that Mary’s family owned a donkey, so she probably walked the entire distance. Mary might have excused herself from tending to her cousin in light of her own predicament as an unwed mother-to-be. Her betrothed Joseph was home contemplating what to do about their impending marriage. Still, Mary reached deep within to embrace God’s peace. What’s more, she went on to share that peace with her cousin. Luke tells us that the moment Mary arrived, Elizabeth’s baby leapt in her womb. This tiny movement reassured Elizabeth. With absolute certainty that she was in God’s presence, Elizabeth asked, “And how does this happen to me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me? …Blessed are you who believed that what was spoken to you by the Lord would be fulfilled.” Elizabeth’s remarks encouraged Mary’s certainty regarding God’s love for her. After this visit, both Mary and Elizabeth basked in heavenly peace. Though what lay ahead would be trying at best for both women, they embraced the things to come with God at their sides.

Grandpa Mike and I never miss an opportunity to spend time with our grandchildren and their parents. We simply can’t resist them. Whether we’ve gathered for a soccer game, a birthday party or at someone’s bedside in a hospital, we find peace in one another’s company. Our love for each other hints at God’s love for us and it is in God’s love that we experience heavenly peace at its best. As this Fourth Sunday of Advent gives way to Christmas, I encourage you to unwrap the peace in every encounter which comes your way. Whether in our families, in our friendships or in the unexpected acquaintances whom we meet along the way, there is heavenly peace to be discovered. Yes, God is present among us and God gifts us with that presence in surprising ways! Merry Christmas!

©2018 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

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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

Keep The Love Alive

I admit to succumbing to the frenzy of Christmas preparations. My frustration somehow took hold and remained with me through the night. Though I slept well, as soon as I opened my eyes that morning, exhaustion threatened. Still, I got up, did morning exercises and met my dear husband in the kitchen for breakfast. Fortunately, Mike shared my resolve to tackle the day’s agenda. We worked in tandem to piece together the little village which rests under our Christmas Tree. When we discovered some burnt-out bulbs, I headed to the hardware store. I went on to the post office for Christmas stamps and then returned home. That helpful hardware person quickly guided me to the replacement bulbs I needed and the post office clerk advised me well regarding Christmas card postage. Still, I was cranky and hungry. Though I had accomplished far more than expected, I realized that filling this space was also on my agenda and the day was already half spent.

By that time, Mike had gone to the gym and the house was quiet. He inadvertently left lights burning on a little tree we placed in the family room that morning. Their twinkle both surprised and delighted me, so I left them on for my delayed lunch. While determining what to eat, I acknowledged to myself that those colorful Christmas lights were quite therapeutic and that I needed more of the same. I filled a little bowl with berries, warmed my cheesy-chicken-rice-cake concoction and grabbed a bottle of Snapple. With that set, I ran upstairs to my desk to retrieve a page I’d printed a week earlier. I wanted to recapture the spirit with which I normally approach Christmas and I knew the lyrics on this page would do the trick. Days earlier, Mike had encountered Ross Wooten singing the hymn on Facebook. When I heard it, I ran up to my own computer to listen again. I also did a search for the lyrics so I could sing along. With lyrics in hand, I returned to the original YouTube video to watch and to sing. I had sung this song here and there ever since and it lifted my spirit every time. So, before eating lunch, I made Christmas Hallelujah my grace before that meal. This wonderful hymn changed everything for me. The love which inspired the first Christmas filled me up once again.

After lunch, I hurried to my computer to write. God had blessed me with a generous measure of inspiration and I was anxious to begin. When I turned to the scriptures for this 4th Sunday of Advent I found that these passages and Christmas Hallelujah expressed similar sentiments regarding the gift of God’s Son. Micah (5:1-4a) assured the people that, though Bethlehem was the lowliest of places, God would raise it up as the birthplace of the Messiah. This Holy One would introduce the world to the fullness of God’s love. Paul’s letter to the Hebrews (10:5-10) explains that Jesus revealed God’s love by caring for those who needed him. Through his every deed, Jesus seemed to day, “Love trumps everything else!”

It is no wonder that we turn to Luke’s gospel (Luke 1:39-45) this last Sunday of Advent. Through this narrative, Luke shared that Jesus revealed God’s love even before he was born. In this passage, Jesus’ expectant mother sets out to visit her elder cousin Elizabeth. Mary makes this treacherous journey because Elizabeth is also pregnant. Mary might have excused herself from tending to her cousin as her own predicament required attention as well. Joseph knew of Mary’s condition and contemplated what to do about their impending marriage. Without knowing the outcome of Joseph’s deliberations, Mary placed her own concerns into God’s hands to free herself to offer her presence and her encouragement to Elizabeth. It was her faith in God’s love for her that gave Mary the strength to do this. As we know, Mary’s faith was well-placed. When Mary arrived at Elizabeth’s home, her cousin greeted her with an announcement. Elizabeth told Mary that the baby within her leaped at the sound of Mary’s voice. Elizabeth sensed the impending arrival of the Messiah as she asked, “And how does this happen to me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me? …Blessed are you who believed that what was spoken to you by the Lord would be fulfilled.” Christmas Hallelujah, indeed!

I’m quite certain that Ross Wooten had no idea of the impact his effort would have when he rewrote the lyrics to Leonard Cohen’s Hallelujah. Still, this young musician did what his heart called him to do. In the process, he proclaimed Christmas Love eloquently enough to revive my weary spirit. This is all that God asks of us this Christmas: To do what our hearts call us to do and to proclaim Christmas Love as only we can! Hallelujah!
©2015 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Small and Important Work

When the time arrived for Elizabeth to have her child
she gave birth to a son.
Her neighbors and relatives heard
that the Lord had shown his great mercy toward her,
and they rejoiced with her.

From Luke 1:57-66

I admit to having been overwhelmed with worry as of late. I must also admit that there is no overt reason for this. Though I consider myself to be a concerned member of our human family, I manage to keep the world’s worries in perspective most of the time. It is difficult to listen to and read the news every day without wanting to be “in charge” of it all in order to change this world for the better. Since this transfer of power will likely never occur, I try to deal with the issues at hand and to make a positive difference in the space over which I do have at least a minimum of influence.

When I checked my calendar this morning, I saw that this is the feast of The Birth of John the Baptist. John is the only child born to the elderly Elizabeth who was thought to be barren until this conception occurred. I wondered how many years Elizabeth had prayed for a child. I wondered what she thought when her prayers were answered relatively late in her lifetime. I wondered how she reacted when she realized that her little one would be a cousin to Jesus. I wondered what she thought when her son John began to exhibit signs of being quite different from the other little boys and teens in their village. I wondered if she lived long enough to see John at work among the people.

Though I have found no answers to my queries, I have found inspiration in the good Elizabeth. Regardless of what was going on in the world at the time, it seems to me that Elizabeth proved to be the best mother John could have hoped for. While the world’s history evolved around them, Elizabeth nurtured and encouraged her son. Her husband Zechariah likely contributed much to John’s education regarding The Law and the prophets. In the end, John emerged to prepare the way of the Lord. The beginnings of Jesus’ future rested in John’s hands.

Loving God, thank you for Elizabeth, Zechariah and John. They tended to their small parcels of this world with dedication and love. Their labor continues to bear fruit in the rest of us. Help each of us to embrace the opportunities which lie before us regardless of how menial they may seem.

©2014 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved