We Are Heard

“Lord, if you will do so, you can cure me.”
Jesus stretched out his hand to touch him
and said, “I will do it. Be cured.”

Luke 5:12-13

When I was a little girl, my parents assured me that it is always appropriate to bring our troubles to God. We often did so en masse. When my uncle suffered a bout with pneumonia, our family prayed together for his recovery every night. When it became clear that this was not in the offing, we prayed for his happy death.

Those prayerful gatherings and my parents’ seemingly familiar stance toward the Lord God encouraged me to speak plainly and directly in my prayer. Though I would like to think that I have refined my approach a bit, I still find myself speaking with the Almighty as I would with my best friend. I never wonder if God is listening. Why question the obvious?

I admit that I have turned my tearful eyes upward often over the past several weeks. Worry over something which I cannot control has gotten the best of me. My only consolation is that I don’t question God’s attentiveness to my prayer. I know God always listens. Oddly, simply acknowledging this truth lifts my spirit and solidifies my hope. Let me rephrase that. Acknowledging God’s attention solidifies my certainty of the perfect outcome, perhaps not in my humble opinion, but certainly in God’s.

Dear God, you attend to each one of us every moment of every day. Thank you for hearing me today and always.

©2017 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Living Gratefully

Let all your works give you thanks, O Lord,
and let your faithful ones bless you.

Psalm 145:10

This occurs occasionally and without explanation. Unexpected feelings of gratitude overwhelm me. I’m a creature of habit who walks the same route every single time I venture outdoors. Still, the blue of the sky or changes in the trees which I’ve seen a hundred times before fill me with awe. The familiar green branches looming overhead reveal new knots and gnarly twists every time I pass under them. Chirping birds provide the frosting on the cake. Even drizzling rain gives me reason to be grateful.

Perhaps I’ve been an unwitting student of Creation’s wisdom during these treks outdoors. Perhaps the gently clouded sky that beckons my eyes toward heaven and the trees which continuously raise their arms upward are reminding me to do the same. Their very existence points to God’s glory. And then there are those people I’ve been given to love…

Perhaps my existence on this earth is meant to point others in heaven’s direction as well. Like Nature around me, perhaps I’m meant to do everything I do with a spirit of gratitude. After all, being a part of God’s creation is a privilege and honor and something for which to be extremely grateful.

Generous God, when I appreciate what I have, it’s easy to share my gifts with others. Help me to do so generously.

©2017 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Prioritize and Write! Right?

Hear, O Lord,the sound of my call;
hear, O Lord, and answer me.

Psalm 27:7

July proved to be a crazy month which ended with our family vacation. This adventure included our sons’ daughters-in-law and our four grandchildren. We had a wonderful time and, needless to say, my husband and I returned home exhausted, happily exhausted. Between loads of laundry, I peeked at our August calendar to confirm that this promises to be a far less frenetic month. After confirming that most dates are free of commitments, I noticed a word I’d written in large block letters at the top of this new calendar page: BOOK! With that, the free-time I’d anticipated for the month ahead seemed to have morphed into a writing frenzy.

I’ve alluded to my frustration over not completing my book multiple times. When I printed BOOK! next to AUGUST on my calendar, I made a mental note to make this the month I return to that manuscript. This time, however, I’ve also made a mental NOT to engage in a writing frenzy. In the past, I’ve spent every available minute at my keyboard. I kept phone calls brief and leisure reading became nonexistent. I exercised less and gave up solving an occasional Sudoku and daily crossword puzzles. Television became a non-entity as well. Though spending time with family and friends brings my greatest joy, I actually felt “bothered” by invitations to socialize.

My skewed priorities added nothing to the quality of my manuscript and the quality of my life. On this August 1, I’m happy to share that I will adhere to my new writing schedule which allows time for the other priorities in my life, especially the people I love.

Patient God, remind me often to make love my main priority.

©2017 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

The Kingdom of Heaven

For the past two Sundays, I’ve shared reflections regarding my parish’s 25th anniversary of our founding. Today, I share what occurred simultaneously. I’m most grateful that we were able to set aside the trauma of our recent flood to celebrate…

I love light. The brighter the better. This likely explains the pleasure I take in walking outdoors. Rays of sunshine peeking down at me between tree branches fill me with joy. When I’m inside, I admit to turning on more lamps than my dear husband cares for to accommodate my need to brighten a room. I’ve done the same at my sisters’ and our children’s homes. When we built our own house, my love for light compelled me to tell our builder that I wanted lots of windows. Only weather the likes of which we endured a few weeks ago causes me to regret that request on occasion.

It was during the night that blustering wind and rain pelted every pane of glass around me with a mighty force that shook my bed. I quickly discovered that Mike was lying wide-eyed beside me. Though it would have been wise to stay away from the windows, I abandoned common sense and slowly raised the blind which faces west. I should have run for cover, but I couldn’t turn my eyes from the large birch tree just inches beyond the glass. It leaned over to touch the ground and then brushed the window as it stood upright. After watching the tree repeat this exercise, it occurred to me that Mike and I needed to get downstairs and perhaps to the basement. When Mike suggested that the worst of the storm was over, I opened a blind to the north to see for myself. The bank of arbor vitae along the back of our yard swayed only slightly and the persistent rain quieted its assault a bit. Though the lights weren’t on, I saw that electricity continued to flow because our alarm clock continued to report the time.

While Mike offered his own prayers and then tried to resume his sleep, I turned my eyes upward and asked our dear Lord to keep everyone safe. Then, as though God needed assistance, I asked Michael the Archangel to protect our homes and property as best he could. Then, as though the good archangel also needed assistance, I asked my loved ones in the hereafter to offer any protection they could muster. Convinced that I’d placed us all and our property in the best of hands, I returned to sleep as well. This proved to be a good thing as I joined everyone for miles around in keeping vigil throughout the next few days. Though the sun made some appearances, additional rain added more than three inches to our total. While I prayed that the sunshine would evaporate some of this precipitation, I had to acknowledge that recent rainfall to the north would add more accumulation than the poor Des Plaines River could handle. Many of our Lake County neighbors continue to suffer through the aftermath of the 100 Years Flood which recurs far more frequently than its name suggests. In the midst of this calamity, I refined my understanding of light and its value to me. Light from the sun is certainly is life-giving. Light from the array of fixtures which brightens our home is also much appreciated. However, most important is the light emitted by our families, our neighbors, first responders and volunteers of every sort who stepped up to do just the right things to ease the troubles of those who needed them.

In today’s gospel (Matthew 13:44-52), Jesus teaches through parables once again. He tells us, “The kingdom of heaven is like a treasure buried in a field, which a person finds and hides again, and out of joy goes and sells all that he has and buys that field. Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant searching for fine pearls. When he finds a pearl of great price, he goes and sells all that he has and buys it…” During those torrential rains and the difficult days that followed, Jesus may have added, “The kingdom of heaven is like a wall of sandbags built by determined hands who toil for as long as needed to keep another safe.” Jesus might have said, “The kingdom of heaven is like a neighborhood without power where families leave their own homes to see that their neighbors are safe. When they find that all are well, they give thanks that only their electricity has been lost.” Jesus might also add, “The kingdom of heaven is like a clear sky which offers sunlight and the promise of receding waters.”

Before the flood, I might have said that kingdom of heaven is like the most brilliant light which reveals every detail of the people and things that I love. After the storm, I say, “The kingdom of heaven is like the light of our community, the kindness that abounds among neighbors and spills over onto strangers, the unexpected hand that helps those who think they cannot make it another day. The kingdom of heaven is precious light and property restored, not only by ComEd and carpenters, but by everyone who makes the well-being of others their priority.”

©2017 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

God’s Unique Family

Each man speaks from his heart’s abundance.
From Luke 6:45

While helping our granddaughters pack their suitcases after an overnight stay at our house, I checked under the beds for stray socks and flip-flops. In the process, I discovered a storage bin which I’d stowed years earlier. I’d left it untouched because I thought it held my son’s memorabilia. When I looked more closely, I saw that the label on top read “Mary’s Childhood and Teens”. A few days later, I returned to that container and the forgotten treasures inside…

When I opened my high school yearbook, I discovered handwritten messages from friends and teachers. Familiar faces filled my memory. The message written near Sister Imelda’s picture took me back to freshman year religion class. Sister Imelda had observed that we can get a good picture of ourselves by looking at our friends. I took this to mean that our friends mirror who we are. When I taught, I often noted that the “good” kids gravitated toward one another, while their less cooperative peers did the same. Still, good kids were sometimes conned by the allure of unsavory acquaintances. At the same time, placing a troubled child in good company resulted in unexpected liaisons that widened the horizons of all concerned. These amazing friendships changed everything for the children involved. Perhaps I missed the meaning of Sister Imelda’s observation. It isn’t that our friends mirror us, but that their company is witness to our openness to one another regardless of our similarities and differences.

As I consider my very unique granddaughters and the variety of friends and teachers who fill my yearbook, I see that our openness to others is key to a rich life. We have so much to learn from one another!

Dear God, thank you for giving us such a unique family.

Time For Peace

A time to love, and a time to hate,
a time of war, and a time for peace.

Ecclesiastes 3:8

Each year, Independence Day observances conjure up recurring memories which will always be with me…

My husband and I have enjoyed celebrating July 4 since our first summer together as husband and wife. When our sons came along, they added exponentially to these observances. We live very near the center of our community on a cul-de-sac that was once filled with children. As a result, we all enjoyed our local fireworks displays from the comforts of our front yards. This amazing circus added to my affection for this holiday.

My earliest Independence Day memories include my own family’s quest for the nearest and best fireworks displays. This was particularly important July 4, 1959. My dad passed away early that morning and helpful relatives who whisked us away for the annual family picnic no doubt wondered if any sort of celebration was appropriate that night. Though I saw no fireworks that night, I find great solace in the fireworks displays I’ve observed every year since. Colorful lights bursting in the black sky above suggest resurrection to me. As I watch, I imagine that my dad’s passing into eternal life must have been a million times more glorious. While the sparkling displays above me consistently dissolve into smoke and ash, my dad’s transformation continues with each moment of eternity.

This year, I’m asking my dad to take advantage of this 58th Anniversary of his first day in heaven. I’m asking him to rally all of the good will at his disposal and to shower over this country and our entire world. Perhaps his effort will be enough to nudge each of us to do our parts in working toward world peace. What a miracle it would be to celebrate July 4, 2018, without a gun being fired or a harsh word spoken anywhere.

Loving God, inspire us to use the gift of our freedom to free this world of conflict and discord wherever we find ourselves.

©2017 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved