Inspired By Mary of Nazareth

What does one do when she intends to dance her way through Advent, but stubs her toe within the first few steps? What does one do when he receives an unexpected diagnosis just a week into this four week journey? What does one do when he attempts to bring a bit of Merry Christmas to every day, but finds his good intentions rerouted by the loss of a loved one? What does one do when she tries her hardest to bring joy to the world, but finds herself unable to move beyond the unrest deep within her own heart? Since the beginning, I’ve urged you to join me in spreading glad tidings and dancing through Advent to Christmas Day. Still, in spite of our best efforts, many of you have discovered with me that this is sometimes more difficult than it seems…

The bumps in the road I’ve encountered this Advent too often threatened to derail my efforts. Rather than giving up on my good intentions, I decided to find encouragement in another Mary, the one who prepared for the first Christmas. When I was a child, I imagined this Mary filled with joy and unable to contain her love for the child she carried within her. I pictured Mary as she appears on many of our Christmas cards. So much at peace, Mary needed only to bow her head in prayer as she awaited Jesus’ birth. She knew God would take care of everything else. My young heart was incapable of comprehending Mary’s actual predicament. As I grew older, I realized that things weren’t quite as easy for Mary as my childhood musing suggested. When I traveled to the Holy Land a few years ago, a visit to Nazareth deepened my thoughts on the matter.

Mary of Nazareth was a young teen when she embraced this out-of-wedlock pregnancy. Her parents had raised Mary to be chaste and faithful to The Law. I can only imagine how they dealt with this news! Mary was betrothed to Joseph who was a good and just man. How did she explain this turn of events to him? Mary must have realized that the politics of her day made life difficult for the Jewish people. Did talk of this child add to their suffering? Did Mary consider the threat to her own safety? A woman caught in adultery drew the rage of the righteous which usually ended with her being stoned to death. As I walked through Nazareth three years ago, busy Israelis passed me from every direction. Some seemed immersed in the concerns of their day. Others laughed and chatted as they entered shops and restaurants. Still others, who’d covered themselves with broad hats and dark clothing, peered impatiently at less devout passersby. I wondered if they would have responded to Mary’s pregnancy with stones. Though the scriptures provide few details, it seems that Mary responded bravely to it all.

From the onset, Mary trusted in God’s faithfulness. As I walked the streets of Nazareth, I longed for the peace which urged Mary on. As I breathed in the air around me, I prayed that I would also breathe in Mary’s conviction that God is with me and with us all through everything we endure. For Mary of Nazareth, sadness and uncertainty never extinguished the spark of peace which was a constant within her heart. Though the complexities of this life grew with every step Jesus walked toward manhood, Mary trusted and carried on. As I ambled along the streets which were so familiar to Mary and Jesus, I admitted to myself that I haven’t been as adept as they were in dealing with the complexities of this life. Still, as Mary believed and as Jesus insisted, God remains with me.

So it is that I invite you to embrace the three days which remain until Christmas with renewed resolve. Though our eyes droop over perpetual to-do lists, look with me through Mary’s eyes toward Christmas Joy. Though our feet ache a bit from too many stumbles and too much running, let’s dance our way to join Mary beside Jesus’ manger. Though we’ve run out of shopping time, you and I know that we’ll never run out of blessings. Regardless of our successful and failed Christmas preparations, Mary’s peace and our own will abound on Christmas Day. Just as was the case for Mary that first Christmas Day, joy will prevail in the precious people we have been given to love. Most importantly, God’s love for you and me will be wrapped and unwrapped over and over again on Christmas Day and always. Merry Christmas!

©2019 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

We’re Always Learning!

“What will this child be?
Was not the hand of the Lord upon him?”

Luke 1:66

When I arrived home after running errands, I paused in the driveway to take in our Christmas decorations. Though we’ll never win a contest for most lights used, my husband and I do our best to acknowledge the season with our efforts. Six years ago, Mike stopped climbing onto the roof above the garage to string lights on our second floor eaves. We both agreed that it is more important for him to make in to Christmas Day unscathed. This year, a young painter who spends his days on roofs offered to assist us. Today, I admired the lights he’s strung across the top of our house.

As I drove into the garage, I shuddered as I recalled the year I slipped on a patch of snow and received twelve staples in my head as a result. No ladder involved! I admit that this fall caused me to feel uncharacteristically vulnerable. At the time, I wondered if I’d reached the age when this type of thing might occur more frequently. That possibility unnerved me as I plan to be a capable and independent Mom and Grandma for many more years.

As I retrieved my packages from the car, I did what I always do when I’m concerned. I turned my eyes upward, not to share my worry, but to express my gratitude. I thanked God that nothing particularly threatening has happened in recent history. I thanked God for our young friend who gifted us with lights above. In the mean time, Mike and I have stayed clear of the roof and I’ve watched more carefully for ice patches and other obstacles. Perhaps that slip prevented far worse because I did learn to be more careful that day.

Dear God, thank you for giving us the wisdom to learn something new and helpful every day! Please get us all to Christmas safely.

©2019 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

We Will Manage, Too!

On you I depend from birth;
from my mother’s womb you are my strength.

Psalm 71:6ab

When heavy winds caused our lights to flicker for a second or two, I panicked. I had so much to do. I found myself trying to shop, wrap, clean, bake and write within carefully planned windows of time. I’d convinced myself that any interruption to my already impossible schedule would be catastrophic at best. When the lights flickered a second time for several more seconds, I did as I always do. I looked up from my keyboard and begged, “Please, Lord, not now.”

Rather than returning to the task at hand, I walked downstairs to assess the wind for myself. I looked out to the backyard first. Everything remained in its place. I looked east toward our screened porch where the Christmas Tree and the figures of Jesus, Mary and Joseph also held their ground. By the time I peeked out the living room windows, the wind had morphed into a barely detectable breeze. Reassured, I took a moment to enjoy our indoor Christmas Tree and the tiny village beneath it. After perusing the town, I focused on the crèche where Mary and Joseph gaze lovingly upon Jesus. I couldn’t help myself as I asked them, “On what kind of night was your little guy born? Did you have any light at all in your makeshift delivery room? How did you keep yourselves warm?”

As I walked upstairs, it occurred to me that Mary and Joseph managed in spite of their dire circumstances. Whatever the wind decided to do the rest of the day, I would manage, too.

Loving God, thank you for giving us the stamina and creativity to manage our circumstances. You are all the light we need today and always.

©2019 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Another Reminder… Where To Turn

He took away our infirmities and bore our diseases.
From Matthew 8:17

I know that I addressed this topic yesterday, but another reminder has come my way…

I sat mindlessly tapping my fingers on the table. Troubling circumstances continued to entrench some people I knew with no end in sight. As I considered the situation, I realized that there was little I could do to alleviate any of the issues which plagued these dear people.

Just outside the window, a large robin plopped himself into our bird bath. That Robin was lucky to have found any water at all as the October cold has kept my husband from filling that bird bath for a while now. Regardless, the robin fluttered his wings for several seconds, splashing water every which way. Though I knew he couldn’t hear me, I remarked to my feathered friend, “It certainly doesn’t take much to make you happy!” Even before I finished that sentence, I realized that the same is true for all of us. Just as that water waited, available for my robin friend when he chose to enjoy it, all that we need awaits us.

Being loved and cared for is the best any of us can hope for. Being loved and cared for makes everything we encounter do-able. Though branches and boulders clutter the road ahead, we manage to climb over them or to plod around them because we aren’t alone. God remains with us every step of the way. You know, my friends would more than survive their troubles!

Loving God, thank you for your continued presence and your unmistakable love.

©2019 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Ask For God’s Help, Too

“…But when you pray, go to your inner room,
close the door, and pray to God in secret.”

From Matthew 6:6

A while back, I found myself quite frustrated. Though I usually manage my own troubles reasonably well, I hadn’t done a great job of that. I was also having difficulty with my inability to alleviate the troubles of those I love. I don’t like to see anyone suffering. Even the woes of those who might not list me among their friends give me reason to pity them and to help them as best I can.

So it was that I did what I could for these others and myself. I also wondered all the while why things had to be “this way” or “that way.” When I was in the midst of my best fretting and hand-wringing, it eventually occurred to me that I was relying on the wrong one to solve the problems at hand and to soothe the suffering around me. It was then that I sheepishly retreated to the quiet of my room and turned my eyes upward. There, I turned over all that troubled me to the One who always makes all of the difference in the world. Though God didn’t change any of our circumstances, my ability to work within them improved exponentially when I acknowledged God’s presence at my side.

Compassionate God, thank you for walking this sometimes arduous journey with us.

©2019 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Generations of Hope

I hear what God proclaims;
God proclaims peace.

Psalm 85:9ab

I’ve enjoyed an abundance of family time as of late due to recent birthdays, our family vacation and our anniversaries. Still, in spite of the tangible love evident in all of these events, I’m bothered these days. I wonder aloud if this restlessness is a sign that I’m getting older. A sense of urgency overwhelms me and I feel a deep need to fix everything that needs fixing!

I love our sons, their wives and our grandchildren more than anything else on this earth. This prompts me to be gravely troubled by the current state of this world of ours. When I convince myself that things cannot possibly get worse, the airwaves deliver another bit of bad news. After lamenting this turn of events, reminders of poverty and other social ills here at home and around the world hit me right between the eyes. I think of my family, especially our grandchildren, and I wonder what this world will be like long after Grandpa and I are gone. How will this mess get fixed?

The family photo resting above my keyboard interrupts my brooding. The sparkle in the eyes of my offspring insists that I give them and their contemporaries a little credit. That sparkle touches smoldering embers of hope deep within which I’ve neglected these days. It occurs to me that numerous generations before me have wrung their hands in despair as well, only to be surprised by the goodness brought about by the young people among them. Finally, I find peace.

Loving God, thank you for the gift of each new generation. Within them lie hope and the potential for peace on this earth.

©2019 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved