Love At Work

This is my commandment: love one another as I love you.
John 15:17

During a recent FaceTime call with our granddaughter, I asked when the last day of stay-in-place school will be. This soon-to-be sixth grader lamented the closing of her school, but not the last day of her at-home studies. Lauren said, “I really hoped that we’d get to go back to school this year. I miss my teacher and my friends.” After acknowledging Lauren’s loss, I reminded her that summertime would challenge her creativity. She, her parents and her sisters would have to find new ways to be productive and to enjoy their leisure time safely. Lauren agreed that this will be a unique adventure.

After we said our good-byes, I recalled the last days of school in my own classroom. Every year, a few of my students looked toward the summer months with dismay. Their parents struggled to make ends meet and often held second jobs. While other children looked forward to vacations with their families, these children dreaded long hours alone. During the summer months, they stayed home by themselves and hopefully stayed out of trouble.

Today, many of the children among us look to Summer 2020 with similar dismay. Many of their parents do, too. None of us know how our new normal will unfold. Some don’t know when they’ll be allowed to return to work and resume providing for their families. All of this adds to our communal concern regarding keeping those we’ve been given to love cared for and healthy.

A few days ago, when worry threatened, I responded by doing something positive. I contacted a nearby neighborhood program which supports families in need. They quickly told me how I could help. Rather than lamenting today’s uncertainties, let’s all do something to help. Praying for the suffering is a great place to start!

Loving God, help us to love as you do.

©2020 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

It’s Worth It!

If they persecuted me, they will also persecute you.
From John 15:20

A few weeks ago, my husband received a call from a friend with whom he served as a hospice chaplain. Afterward, Mike smiled as he recalled some of the remarkable people who shared their last days with him. Whenever he talks about these experiences, one of his favorite patients always comes to mind. Though a day of hospice visits often proved to be taxing, Mike returned home with a smile whenever he saw Marie. This elderly woman was filled with the most amazing bits of wisdom and she generously shared one or another of them during Mike’s visits.

My husband will never forget his favorite morsel which came in these words: “They can say life is a bowl of cherries, but I say it’s a bowl of pits!” Throughout the remainder of his visits with Marie, this comment stood out. He and Marie laughed often at the truth of her observation!

As life unfolds around us and we behave ourselves and try to do the right thing, we sometimes feel entitled to carefree days and smooth sailing. Unfortunately, as the current pandemic unceasingly reminds us, this isn’t the case for any of us. As the passage above from John’s gospel reminds us, even Jesus didn’t have it easy on this earth. Why, then, would things be any different for you and me? The best we can do is what Jesus did: Love and care for one another in the same way we hope to be loved and cared for in spite of what is going on around us.

Dear God, thank you for the gift of Jesus. In spite of everything, he convinces us that this life is worth all of our effort.

©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

Mercy Enough for Us All

“Be merciful, just as God is merciful.
Do not judge, for you will not be judged.”

Luke 6:36-37

I admit that I’d engaged in a bit of self-deprecation. I’d been emotional and angry, sometimes with reason and sometimes for no reason at all. I questioned my life’s work, wondering exactly what that might be.

A few mornings later, while heading to the kitchen for breakfast, I passed our wall of family photos. When I noticed my dad’s picture, he seemed to be smiling at me. Suddenly, words he’d spoken to me decades earlier echoed in my mind. My dad had told me, “You’re much harder on yourself than anyone else would ever be.” Though I didn’t understand what he meant at the time, that morning, I understood.

I’ve spent much of my life second-guessing myself, wondering if anything I’ve said or done has been good enough. Though my childhood was filled with the company of numerous encouraging adults, a single harsh word sent me into a tailspin. It took me weeks or longer to recover. Of course, most of those around me were completely oblivious to my self-imposed pain because I persisted in trying even harder to please them. It wasn’t until years into adulthood that I realized God’s mercy wasn’t only to be imitated in my relationships with others, but also in my regard for myself.

That morning, I promised to stop judging me. Today, I’m pleased to report that I’ve kept that promise for the most part. When I find myself faltering, I repeat my dad’s words to me and start anew.

Loving God, thank you for inspiring my dad with your amazingly merciful love and for inspiring me to listen to him.

©2020 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

God’s Whisper

I will call this to mind as my reason to have hope:
The love of the Lord is not exhausted, his mercies are not spent.

Lamentations 3:21-22

Sometimes, the voices we hear most loudly aren’t the voices to which we should listen. Sometimes, the voices which clamor for our attention must be ignored so we can hear the life-giving whisper of God…

When I consider the voice which discourages me and questions my worth and demands my shame and denies that I am loved, I find that it comes from within me. Though the critical voices of others sometimes make their way to my core, I eventually tune them out and move on. It is the familiar voice echoing my personal litany of self-doubts which stubbornly remains to chip away at my heart. I’m grateful that I’m incapable of numbing the pain which comes with this self-imposed criticism. You see, it is this pain which urges me to voice my own lamentations to God who listens and who never fails to respond. Whether it comes in the warmth of sunshine, in the glistening snow, in the words of a loved one or from the center of my core, the words remain the same: “You are my beloved, Mary, and my favor rests on you.”

How great is God’s faithfulness to you and to me! Listen and you too will hear your name in the midst of those amazing words…

Faithful God, let me never tire of your encouraging voice in whatever form you speak to me.

©2020 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved