God’s Indiscriminate Love

While waiting for an appointment, I tried several times to begin this reflection. Much to my dismay, distractions of every sort thwarted my progress. After vetoing my third attempt at an opening paragraph, I decided to close my eyes, contemplate life and offer a word of greetings to God. I’m usually quite good at blocking out the world around me. I thought I was succeeding until a conversation nearby became animated. The two women involved weren’t arguing. They were simply lamenting their grandchildren’s tough circumstances. Though I tried to return to my conversation with the Lord God, I couldn’t ignore the long list of troubles that these obviously dear friends shared. I closed my eyes to hide the tears which formed on their behalf. “Dear God,” I prayed, “please help them and those poor kids. Let them know that you’re with them in all of this.” My name was called before I could add an “amen” to my plea. Though I will likely never see those worried grandmothers again, their sadness remained with me.

When I sat at my keyboard later that afternoon, melancholy continued to overwhelm me. As difficult as those situations are, the same and worse exist throughout this world of ours. I wondered what any of us can do to help all of the suffering children and adults whose situations seem more hopeless than ever. I didn’t help those worried grandmas. How would I make a dent in the rest of the misery around me? With that query in mind, I returned to today’s scripture passages and to my initial attempts. At the bottom of a page-full of notes, I read, “Use the one-liners!” One-liners? It was then that I recalled the quotes from Isaiah, Paul’s Letter to the Romans and Matthew’s gospel which I’d written on my notepad. “Of course!” I said aloud. Before returning to the task at hand, I glanced upward and whispered my thanks for that well-timed bit of inspiration.

Though today’s readings are rich with meaning, I couldn’t turn my attention from those precious one-liners. In the passage from Isaiah (Isaiah 56:1, 6-7), the author quotes God’s insistence that foreigners who seek the Lord are as welcome to share God’s company as those born into their community and their faith. This discourse ends with, “My house shall be called a house of prayer for all peoples.” I couldn’t help surmising that God also adds, “And my heart shall be called a heart which loves all peoples.” Though I felt great empathy toward those heartbroken grandmas, God actually endures their pain with them. While I do my best to comfort the suffering around me, God remains at their sides for the duration. I acknowledged that simply knowing that Someone out there feels our pain is a huge consolation. I whispered, “Thank you for caring.”

In the passage from Romans (Romans 11:13-15, 29-32), Paul turns his attention to the Gentiles because his own people have rejected him. While he gives his all to the Gentiles, Paul reminds them that Israel remains in God’s radar as well. Paul insists that this is the case, “For the gifts and the call of God are irrevocable.” The point for you and me is that regardless of the discouragement or anger which seemingly draws us away from God, God remains with us. I whispered again, “Thank you for your company.”

Today’s passage from Matthew’s Gospel (15:21-28) provides a somewhat puzzling example of God’s unshakable love for each one of us. I admit that at first reading Jesus seems a bit arrogant in his encounter with a Canaanite woman who seeks a cure for her tormented daughter. The woman has no intention of joining Jesus and his followers. Still, she approaches Jesus for a miracle. Jesus begins his response with his observation that as an outsider this woman has no business seeking the favor of the God of Israel. The woman pushes on and argues that even the dogs are allowed to eat the crumbs which fall from their master’s table. Now, the men of Jesus’ day never engaged a woman in such intellectual banter. Though Jesus seems cruel in his remarks, he actually honors this woman’s wisdom and stature by arguing with her. Jesus honors the woman further when he rewards her profound faith with her daughter’s cure. Jesus tells her, “Oh woman, great its your faith. Let it be done for you as you wish!”

Though the cures for our ills and those of this world come far less dramatically, God remains with every man, woman and child who walks this earth whether or not we notice. In the mean time, it’s up to us to take those one-liners to heart and to live accordingly. As was the case with those worried grandmas, I cannot solve all of the problems which come my way. However, I can care and I can do something when the opportunity presents itself. In the process, I’ll make God’s precious presence evident to those who really need to know that God is with them.

©2017 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

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Do Pray!

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

Luke 6:12

When friends recently requested prayers for an ailing parent, I promised to storm heaven on their loved ones behalf. Though I believe we always have God’s attention, I also think that adding our own positive energy to the mix is helpful. Much to my dismay, I found myself lacking in that positive energy. I’ve been tired and stressed over some things and I’m frustrated over my inability to improve them. As I struggled to voice the prayer my friends requested and one regarding my own situation, my words failed me. After several uncomfortable minutes, it occurred to me that I needed to heed my own advice.

Whenever I’m asked about prayer, I encourage those interested to speak to God in their own words. If the words don’t come, I suggest that they sit quietly and simply accept the fact that God does understand. If they feel that they must say something, I add, “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.”

After taking a few minutes to laugh at myself over my inability to practice what I preach, I turned to the Book of Psalms for the words I needed. I happily rediscovered that there is a psalm for every occasion under heaven. And, yes, I found the precise wording I needed to pray on behalf of my friends and of myself.

Dearest Lord, thank you for inspiring our prayer in so many beautiful ways!

©2017 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

God’s Beloved

Brothers and sisters:
You are no longer strangers and sojourners,
but you are fellow citizens with the holy ones
and members of the household of God…

Ephesians 2:19

Life was tough for the contemporaries of Jesus. The Jewish people endured Roman rule which had little appreciation for the plight of the poor. The people also suffered under the temple hierarchy who valued The Law more than the people for whom The Law had been given. Jesus himself endured the Pharisees’ criticism because they couldn’t see past their own infatuation with rules, regulations and control. It was Jesus’ failure to adhere to ritual cleanliness and his association with outcasts which infuriated these adversaries most. The good news is that Jesus ignored the criticism and made room for whoever desired his company. He associated with perceived sinners of every sort. He touched lepers and the blind. He even saved a woman caught in adultery. He would have done the same for the man involved had he been threatened with stoning as well.

Though you and I are not always ostracized quite as dramatically as the people of Jesus’ day, we suffer our own varieties of exclusion, loneliness and despair just the same. The good news for us is that God responds in like manner to you and me. When the rest of the world pushes us away, God embraces us. When no one lifts a finger to help, God lays hands upon us and heals us.

Gracious God, thank you for calling each one of us your beloved.

©2017 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Always In Good Company

I am the Lord, your God,
who takes hold of your right hand,
calming your fears.

Isaiah 41:13

My husband and his friend share similar foot pain. Year’s ago, Mike endured a battery of tests which he hoped would reveal the cause and a treatment plan. Much to his dismay, the results were inconclusive. A few weeks ago, Mike’s buddy endured even more extensive tests to determine the same. If his friend received any new information, my husband planned to look further into his own situation.

Much to their dismay, Mike’s friend’s tests revealed no new information. Like my husband, he’ll simply have to deal with the discomfort as best he can. I have to add that neither of these men are complainers though at times “simply” dealing with their pain isn’t easy. They know many others who have far greater health concerns and both are grateful that their situations aren’t worse. When they experience “bad foot days”, they simply bide their time until the pain lessens and then move on.

As I consider the practical approach Mike and his buddy have taken to their pain, I must acknowledge my admiration for both of them. My own experiences have taught me that our pain is our pain whether or not it is greater than someone else’s. The good news in all of this is that we never endure our pain alone. God promises to be with us in everything. Regardless of our position on the “pain scale”, God is with us through it all.

Compassionate God, make your presence known today. Allow those who are suffering to see you at their sides.

©2017 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

The Gift of Compassion

They are more precious than gold, than a heap of purest gold;
Sweeter also than syrup or honey from the comb.

Psalm 19:11

While my granddaughters were here for an overnight stay, I stubbed my toe. As you likely suspect, the resultant pain was excruciating. I broke another toe a few years earlier as a result of similar clumsiness, so I feared the worst. Before I recovered from this present-day incident, my youngest granddaughter came bouncing into tho room. When she saw the look on my face, she asked, “Are you okay, Grandma?” Though I quickly wiped away a telltale tear and smiled my best, Claire knew that all was not well. “Oh, I just bumped my toe,” I said. With that, Claire ran to join her sisters in play. “Grandma hurt herself, so we have to be quiet,” Claire ordered.

Though my older granddaughters prefer to be in charge, they listened. They were especially quiet and extremely cooperative. When I joined them a few minutes later, they did everything in their power to lighten my mood. I admit that I was quite touched but the efforts of these three little girls.

My husband and I did our best to create a loving and compassionate home for our sons. Apparently, we succeeded at some level as illustrated by in granddaughters’ merciful management of my misery. God has worked to make this world of ours a loving and compassionate place as well. The best way to show our appreciation is to respond to one another in kind. This is more important today than ever…

Generous God, thank you for opening our hearts to your love. Remind us often that your most pressing request is that we love each other as you love us.

©2017 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

God’s With Us in Everything

Give me back the joy of your salvation,
and a willing spirit sustain in me.

Psalm 51:14

I’m grateful for those who read my work. Though I’m usually unsure of what will result when I sit at my keyboard, I write with purpose and with conviction. For some reason, I feel that this is what I’m meant to do. Sometimes, I feel that this is more God’s idea than my own.

I’ve spent a lifetime sorting out my experiences of God. I’m awed by God’s enduring presence, mercy and love. These gifts remain consistent regardless of issues I may have at one time or another with my faith, my Church, my loved ones, my not-so-loved ones, my situation… You get the idea. My point is that God never abandons us. Regardless of the mess we may make of things at a given point in time, God’s love remains. When I find myself feeling unlike one of God’s children, I echo the psalmist’s words cited above. I acknowledge my frailty and I ask God to take over for me for as long as needed.

I write about these things because we all struggle at one time or another. I find peace in my ability to offer a bit of peace to another suffering soul. Because their discouragement touches my human heart deeply, I become more convinced than ever of how lovingly and encouragingly God listens and suffers with us.

When our troubles are too heavy to carry alone we simply have to turn them over to God.

Loving and Merciful God, touch the aching hearts of those who need you. Remind us that you are with us in everything.

©2017 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved