More On God’s Gifts…

Let the rivers clap their hands,
the mountains shout with them for joy.

Psalm 98:8

When friends of ours expressed doubts about taking a cruise, I promised to convince them otherwise. In an effort to do so, I showed them our album from an Alaskan Cruise we’d enjoyed some years ago. Though mere mention of the 49th State conjures up mental images of this trip, our album brought these beautiful memories to life…

Every morning, the majestic outdoors waited outside our window to welcome us to the new day. Mountains peered from above inviting me to gaze their way before the inevitable approach of cloud-cover. Gulls, salmon and whales gifted me with appearances as well and then quickly continued on their way. Even before breakfast, Creation filled me with reason to rejoice and be glad.

The people we met added to our treasure. I remember the Tlingit Tribe Member, the fifth generation Alaskan migrant, the Alaskan newcomer and fellow travelers who shared their stories with us. Each one embraced the simple life dictated by Alaska’s geography and climate only to find much more. Though it was impossible to understand each of their journeys completely, the peace within them was unmistakable. Life is not perfect for my Alaskan friends. Still, the beauty and simplicity around them lightens their burdens and frees them to focus more fully on the things that matter most.

Though I didn’t say much about the ship as I shared that album, the beauty we discovered on that cruise convinced our friends to give it a try.

Loving God, thank you for the wonderful gifts which urge us to expand our horizons and to appreciate your handiwork.

©2018 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

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Precious Time With God’s Gifts

You fill us at daybreak with your kindness
and we shout for joy and gladness at what we see.

Psalm 90:14

I’ve recently shared memories from some recent travel. Though I’m always pleased with the sites we see, it’s my husband who keeps a bucket list of sorts of all of the places he hopes to visit. Oddly, in spite of our recent trek to Italy, I feel the need to get away these days.

Just as I expected, my husband read my lamentations. He seems to be waiting for me to hint at where I might like to go. When he reads this, he’ll discover that I’d like to get away with as little trouble as possible. This means that I prefer not to involve planes or trains or buses in our travel. Today, I’ll ask him to join me in selecting a destination we can drive to and enjoy for a few days. Regardless of our choice, I am certain I’ll find precisely what I need along the way.

This is the case every time my husband convinces me to venture away with him. In each new place and new person I meet, I discover an uplifting morsel of Creation and of the God who gifted us with this world and with one another. With each new encounter, I find good reason to shout for joy over what I see.

Generous God, thank you for giving me the sense to enjoy your gifts on occasion.

©2018 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Hearts Like God’s

We give thanks to God always for all of you,
remembering you in our prayers…

1 Thessalonians 1:2

I was very excited to cross off another item on my “check-up” list. I’d gone to my internist and eye doctor and had a mammogram. When I arrived for this appointment, I was taken aback by the waiting room filled with pregnant women. I’m well past that possibility and it hadn’t occurred to me that I might wait in the company of so many mommies-in-waiting. The good news is that they all appeared cheerful as they chatted about their pregnancies and shared helpful tips with one another.

Though I’d brought a book along to occupy myself while I waited, I didn’t read a word. Instead, I stared at the same page all the while as I listened to the exchanges around me. I admit that I filled up with love as the young women around me shared their joy with one another. “Ah, to be young again!” I thought. I clearly recalled the joy my husband and I experienced throughout my pregnancies with both of our sons. It was only when the nurse interrupted my musing that I remembered the reason I was sitting in that waiting room.

As she escorted me to the examination room, I remembered the moments when the doctor confirmed each pregnancy. I fell in love with those babies-to-be instantly. Such are the hearts of parents. They are fashioned to love their children no matter what. Did you know that God’s heart works the same way?

Loving God, thank you for teaching us to love in such amazing ways.

©2018 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Our Always-Dependable Shelter

Behind me and before, you hem me in
and rest your hand upon me.

Psalm 139:5

Though we were more than a week into October, humidity peeked that morning as I walked. Oddly, I failed to notice this until a row of trees covered me with shade for several seconds. As I ambled along beneath them, I felt notably cooler. When I walked on into the sun again, I felt the day’s unexpected heat until I reached another row of trees. I plodded along in and out of the heat for several minutes.

Eventually, I found myself beneath a half-block row of trees. I embraced the coolness I found there with deep gratitude. Though this morning’s temperatures would have been considered a blessing in mid-July, I was grateful for the reprieve just the same. I couldn’t help voicing my thanks with a short prayer: “Thank you, Generous God. This feels so good!” God responded with a most consoling thought. “Just as those trees offer you shelter from the heat,” God seemed to say, “I offer you shelter whenever you need it.”

For the rest of that walk and many times since, I’ve thanked God for the shelter that has come during countless difficult episodes in my life and the lives of those around me.

Comforting God, you are with us in our joys and in our sorrows. Please reveal your presence to us often just as tangibly as you did today.

©2018 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Our Persistent BFF

God is near to all who call upon God…
From Psalm 145:14

The other day, while organizing my messy desk, I rediscovered a favorite prayer card. I placed it next to my keyboard so I’d see it every time I sit down to write. Unfortunately, in my haste to meet a deadline, I managed to bury that card once again. I finally unearthed it on a not-so-cheery morning when I badly needed its message. I treasure this card because it features a prayer which asks God to open us all into a personal relationship. This prayer doesn’t request a keen knowledge of church teaching or the scriptures or theology. This prayer asks that we sense God’s presence not only with our psyches, but with our hearts as well.

It occurs to me that this prayer’s anonymous author approaches God in the same personal way in which he interacts with his closest friends. What is even better is that God seems to reciprocate this relationship in very tangible ways. I treasure this prayer card because I’ve been fortunate enough to experience the same on occasion.

God invites each of us into a relationship. When we respond as we would to a dear friend, we speak freely and hide nothing. We tell God everything with the absolute certainty that God understands it all. The truth is that God understands all of our predicaments far better than we do!

The moral of the story is this… God loves you and me passionately and God is with us always like the truly good friend who God is!

Loving God, be persistent in revealing your friendship so unmistakably that we can’t miss your presence around us and within us.

©2018 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

We Find Our Treasure When We Let Go…

In mid-September, my husband-the-good-deacon and I enjoyed an eight-day tour of Puglia. This quaint Italian wonderland is located on the southeast side of the big boot. After eating, exploring and eating even more, Mike and I questioned the wisdom of adding four additional days to our travel. Happy as we were with the tour, we were tired and wanted to go home. Still, while our fellow tourists boarded that plane back to O’Hare, Mike and I settled in on the smaller aircraft which would take us to Palermo, Sicily. Though the flight lasted less than an hour, fatigue dug in its heels. When our luggage appeared an hour after we landed, we were convinced that we were doomed to four days of misery. With that, we pulled our bags out of the terminal and headed outdoors. Amazingly, it took only a second to spot the young man who was waving and smiling broadly as he called our names. In an instant, our fatigue faded. Mike and I bubbled with joy as walked to Francesco and the four memorable days which awaited us.

Mike met Francesco a few years ago via Facebook and a recommendation regarding his work. The two have communicated all the while via private messages and WhatsApp chats. During this time, Francesco completed a genealogy search for us. Francesco’s enthusiasm suggested that he was as pleased as we were with the results. It was as though Mike’s Sicilian family had become Francesco’s long lost relatives as well. Throughout our time together, this impression proved accurate. Amazingly, while our hopes regarding this visit to Mike’s grandparents’ village were abundantly fulfilled, it was an unexpected encounter in a nearby town which best illustrates the tone of our time in Sicily and the amazing friendships which have resulted.

We spoke about this impending trip with our friends Mary Lou and Dave. Mary Lou shared that her aunt and uncle live in a town close to Mike’s grandparents’ home in Altofonte. On a whim, Mike asked for their address thinking that we might find the time to greet this elderly couple and their daughter. When we mentioned the possibility to Francesco, he promised to make this happen. While Francesco confirmed the directions to Casteldaccia, Mike called Mary Lou to ensure that we’d be welcomed and that we wouldn’t frighten her family. With that, we made our way into their neighborhood. We soon discovered that the house numbers had recently changed and that the address we had was no longer accurate. Fortunately, it was early evening and many of the locals were sitting outdoors. When Francesco asked a gentleman if he knew where Paolo and Maria lived, I noticed a woman a few doors down. She poked her husband and said, “Paolo e Maria?” Sure enough, we’d found Mary Lou’s family!

While Francesco explained our presence, I pulled out my cell phone and retrieved a photo of Mary Lou, Dave and their kids. Before Francesco could complete his explanation, Maria jumped up to greet us. After I shared the photo with her, Maria ran (Yes, she ran!) into the house to get her daughter Angelina. Francesco explained for us that we were so close, we simply had to bring our greetings, smiles and hugs to Mary Lou’s family. Though we were a little nervous about this encounter, it took only seconds for Mike and me to feel that we were among family. We smiled all the while as we shared news regarding Mary Lou and Dave, Valerie and Ryan. Francesco documented this visit with photographs and a video of the hugs I collected for Mary Lou and her family. As for me, I’ve fulfilled my promise to bring those hugs and a full account of our time together all the way home to Gurnee.

I share our Sicilian adventure with you because it gets to the heart of the young man’s problem in today’s gospel (Mark 10:17-30). This rich fellow spent his life carefully adhering to The Law. His well-intentioned heart and his desire to do more drew him to Jesus. Jesus recognized the young man’s goodness and he invited him to give his wealth to the poor and to follow him. This generosity of spirit was beyond the young man’s comprehension. He couldn’t imagine himself without his wealth in hand.

You know, fatigue almost kept Mike and me from embracing the joy we found in Sicily. Mary Lou’s family might have allowed fear to keep them from welcoming us into their home. Rather, it was without hesitation that they embraced us as their own. Their love for Mary Lou compelled them to do nothing less. That truly poor rich man had busied himself so completely with calculating The Law’s dictates and his own profits that he couldn’t imagine opening himself to a different way of life. His material concerns kept him from the joy which awaited him in Jesus and in all of those he’d meet along the way. I wish that young man could have joined us in Paolo and Maria’s home. They would have shown him that when we open our hands to let go, we free ourselves to embrace the best of this life. What we have at the moment is not nearly as valuable as what we will have when we open our hearts to one another.

©2018 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved