What Can I Do? Something…

“Teach them to carry out everything I have commanded you.
And know that I am with you always…”

Matthew 28:20

While purging a kitchen drawer, I found a tiny plate which can’t be more than 5 inches in diameter. This antiquated memento features a sketch of President and Mrs. John F. Kennedy. Though this chipped bit of porcelain isn’t fine artwork, it elicited a smile. I quickly recalled the enthusiasm surrounding his candidacy. I followed the news to learn more about him and I cheered when he was elected. When Mr. Kennedy offered his inaugural speech, I learned about this man’s hope for the future. Our new president told us, “…ask not what your country can do for you-ask what you can do for your country.” At the time, I wondered. What could I do?

Though I was only in elementary school during this presidency, I recall Khrushchev’s rants and our fear of communism. I recall the worry surrounding the Cuban Missile Crisis and the relief over its resolution. Though we fretted and prayed about such things, I felt safe. It was November 22, 1963, when everything changed. 1036 days into his term, President Kennedy was killed by an assassin.

On this difficult anniversary, regardless of our religious and political affiliations, I think we all have good reason to respond to Mr. Kennedy’s request. Today, I’m going to stop wondering. Today, I’m going to do something to make my little corner of this country a better place.

Patient and merciful God, you place your trust in us to care for this world and for one another. Today, inspire us all to do something to ensure that your trust is well-placed.

©2019 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

The Bright Side

With me at your right hand,
you will not be shaken.

Psalm 16:8

When the patio door refused to slide open, my husband rubbed his forehead and asked, “Now what?” As he checked the door from top to bottom, he added, “But if this is the worst that happens today, I’m a lucky man.” I smiled as I agreed whole-heartedly.

Though our life together hasn’t been trauma free, my husband and I have managed to look at the brighter side of things when tragedy touches us. I was blessed with this mindset early on. My husband was not. It has taken years of nurturing his own faith as best he could for him to develop his positive stance toward life’s negatives. Though this transformation sometimes reverts to a “work in progress,” I admire my husband’s persistence.

You know, God has encouraged our faith from the beginning. When humankind failed to acknowledge the wisdom of the prophets, God sent Jesus of Nazareth to get our attention even more dramatically. Who but one from God could have conceived of the prodigal son’s forgiving father and the lost coin’s owner who turned everything upside down to find it? Better still, Jesus lived the love, compassion, mercy and forgiveness which he attributed to God. Still, in spite of his goodness, tragedy touched Jesus’ life as well. “In the end,” my husband reminds me often, “there is heaven!”

The moral of the story is this: We aren’t in heaven, so this life will never be perfect. Still, God loves us and is with us in everything. In the mean time, it’s up to us to remember that better things will come.

Loving God, thank you for your encouraging presence.

©2019 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

The Gift of Hope

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

Isaiah 41:13

While leaving the post office the other day, I ran into a woman who wore a very familiar-looking sling. I couldn’t help asking if she’d had shoulder surgery. When she replied in the affirmative, I listened as she described her recovery to date. I also shared some things which seemed to help me way back when. The most important advice I could give her was to persist in her physical therapy, to practice every movement allowed and to take her time. Only she could determine what was and wasn’t too painful. When we parted ways, I couldn’t help recounting my own experience in this regard. I admit that I shuddered at the thought!

When I discovered that my shoulder was in need of repair, a very short surgery, a very lengthy recovery and my fear of the unknown overwhelmed me. I survived only because of the many amazing people with whom I’d walked through far greater health concerns. They truly inspired me through those difficult days. Some have long since moved on to new life. Others faced each new day with the resolve to return to good health which they eventually did.

My encounter with that fellow shoulder-surgery-survivor touched me in unexpected ways. Though recalling that miserable recovery period filled me with angst, that I survived it filled me with renewed hope. Our chance meeting served as a reminder that I do have it in me to survive everything this life places in my path. I need only to remain open to the wonderfully encouraging people around me and to follow the advice I offered outside of the post office that day.

Compassionate God, you make your presence known in amazing ways. Help all of the suffering to recognize that you are at their sides through all that they endure.

©2019 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Just Like You!

“If you then… know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will God in heaven do?”
Inspired by Luke 11:12-13

A kind-hearted friend who is also a compassionate listener wondered if he’d done the right thing…

Someone near and dear to Jack had confessed her conviction that she was completely unforgivable. Before Jack could utter a word of consolation, the woman enumerated her alleged evil-doing and the resulting sorrow which had filled her life. She ended her lengthy monologue with a deluge of tears.

Jack waited some time for the woman’s sobs to fade into whimpering and for her tears to run out. When she had no energy left with which to fight off his consolation, Jack told her that he was glad he could be there for her. Jack also told her that he was quite certain that nothing is unforgivable in God’s eyes. The two sat for several minutes before Jack asked his friend if she felt a little better. She smiled and admitted, “I feel a lot better. Thank you!” When Jack ran into his friend a few days later, she repeated her thanks especially with regard to God’s opinion of her seemingly terrible past. Jack told me that he was thrilled when she said, “I really do think that God loves me.”

As Jack relayed the story, I wondered why he’d asked if he’d done the right thing. Before I could ask, Jack explained. “I always thought I believed that stuff, but when I was telling her about being forgiven, I somehow knew it was true. I’m just a regular guy and I could feel her pain. Doesn’t this mean that God is even better at feeling all of our pain?”

Yes, Jack. Thant’s exactly what it means!!!

Thank you, Loving and Merciful God, for inspiring us to be like you.

©2019 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Leave the Timing to God

“How does that concern of yours involve me?
My hour has not yet come.”

From John 2:4

“Timing is everything,” so they say…

I’ve often scratched my head while entering a particular place at a particular time wondering why I was there. Though uncertain of my purpose, I’ve continued on, full speed ahead. More often than not, as these encounters unfolded, I realized that I was precisely where I was meant to be. On a few occasions, I’ve met someone who became a friend. At other times, I’ve chatted with someone just long enough to be of help. I’ve even simply enjoyed myself unexpectedly only to leave fully rejuvenated as a result. Some of these encounters have transformed a fleeting interest into a long-term commitment.

A lifetime of such serendipitous adventures has convinced me there aren’t many coincidences. I simply can’t accept that our lives are lived at the mercy of chance. Now, when I find myself questioning my involvement with the people who cross my path or tasks which seem to demand my attention for no good reason, I don’t have to wait long for an explanation. God has made an art of providing me and all of us opportunities to serve and to be served. Somehow, we’re all given chance after chance to be our best in the ways we’re needed most. When we embrace those opportunities, we’ll make life better for someone else and for ourselves.

Dear God, thank you for this life. Though I am never quite sure of where I am headed, you always know what lies before me.

©2019 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

It’s All About Love

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times… Things seem not to have changed much since Charles Dickens penned these words to open the first chapter of A TALE OF TWO CITIES*. Dickens released his book chapter by chapter in a weekly journal he debuted in March 1859. I dreaded tackling this book when it was assigned reading in high school. However, in the wake of recent news, I find Dickens’s opening observations to be quite pertinent. It seems that these sentiments have described the human experience since the beginning of time…

October 27, 2018 was a truly enjoyable Saturday until it wasn’t. That morning, a man driven by hatred shot his way into a Pittsburgh synagogue where he murdered eleven worshipers. He wounded six others in the process. When I heard this news, I immediately lost interest in the M&M packets I was pouring into the large bowl near our front door. Donning my most-orange flannel shirt to greet Gurnee’s trick-or-treaters no longer amused me. Though the aroma of beef stew simmering in our crock pot did its best to entice me, I had no appetite. What should have been a carefree day had morphed into a period of mourning over the loss of yet another measure of our humanity. I found myself in the worst of times.

In spite of the amazingly polite and appreciative trick-or-treaters who frequented our door, my thoughts returned to that synagogue and to similar events which have rocked my world. It was April 1968, when another of our fellow humans assassinated Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. A heartbroken junior in high school, I couldn’t accept that any one of us could respond to the author of the I Have a Dream Speech with such hatred. A few years later, some friends were drafted to serve in Vietnam, while others thanked God that their birth dates allowed them to avoid the war and remain in college. I wrote often to the guys in the service while I protested the war here at home. I loved my friends in Vietnam and I marched as I did to bring them home as quickly as possible. The shooting at Kent State in May 1970 tore me apart once again. I cringed as I wondered how our home turf had also become a war zone. Those who lost their lives in that synagogue weren’t given the time to ask that question. Our neighbors in violence-ridden neighborhoods tell us that they’ve lived in a war zone forever. So I ask, “Dear God, will it ever be the best of times?”

Before I continue, I acknowledge with genuine gratitude and joy that we’ve all been blessed with the best of times at one time or another. Perhaps this is the reason it’s so difficult to accept the terrible events which hurt us so. Perhaps this is the reason Jesus embraced his work among us with such fervor. Jesus himself was born among us in the worst of times. Roman occupiers mercilessly lorded it over the Jewish people throughout Jerusalem and the surrounding area. Herod was a tyrant who inspired ruthlessness in those who served him. When Jesus’ parents settled in Nazareth, their tiny town was overcrowded and unsafe. Still, Joseph and Mary provided Jesus a happy home there where he learned firsthand about the love of God and the love of his neighbors. Through his parents, Jesus came to know our Benevolent Creator who, above all else, loves us and wishes us the best in this life and in the hereafter. Yes, even Jesus found that the best of times can be elusive. Jesus endured the worst of times just as often as we do.

In today’s gospel (Mark 13:24-32), Mark indicates that Jesus was sometimes quite dramatic in his response to the evils around him. Jesus told the people, “In those days after that tribulation the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light, and the stars will be falling from the sky, and the powers of the heavens will be shaken.” But Jesus didn’t stop there. He went on to say, “And they will see the Son of Man coming from the clouds with great power and glory, and then he will send out the angels and gather his elect from the four winds.” Jesus seemed to say to them and to us, “Yes, this too shall pass!” Jesus knew God’s love and God’s intent for our happiness firsthand. This is the reason Jesus came. This is the reason Jesus shared in our trial and tribulations, pointing out all the while the joy to be found in God’s love for us, in loving God and in loving one another. When happier times seemed too elusive to imagine, Jesus called the people’s attention to the joy to be found in the things to come. Jesus assured all who would listen that the worst of times served to make the best of times all the sweeter!

When I look back upon the difficult times in my life, I’m amazed that I made it through them. At the same time, when I look back upon the happiest times of my life, I’m amazed at my capacity for joy. Though I’m tempted to wonder what God was thinking in all of this, I need only to turn to Jesus. Jesus would be first to say, “Love, Mary. In the best of times and the worst of times, it’s all about love.”

©2018 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

*Charles Dickens, A TALE OF TWO CITIES, Book the First, The Period, page 1, March 1859.