A Lifetime of Second Chances

God created us in God’s image…
God looked at everything God created and found it to be very good.”

From Genesis 1

The treasures I recall from my childhood include our children’s bible. This huge book consisted of cardboard front and back covers which held together several small booklets. A new booklet arrived in the mail every month. Each time, my mom carefully removed the bible’s cardboard cover, inserted the new booklet and then replaced the cover. Afterward, my sisters and I poured over this newest addition where colorful pictures adorned every page. When we were finished, I always returned to the first booklet’s story of Creation, Adam and Eve, the snake and that forbidden tree. Eden looked amazing to me, at least as grand as heaven. “Why,” I often asked myself, “would Adam and Eve turn away from God who gave them so much?”

Life in this troubled world of ours answers that question every day. It’s lucky for us that God never returns the favor when we walk away. God simply watches with great expectations as we feebly do our best to make things right again. God also waits with arms outstretched for our return.

A friend recently shared a story from his childhood which illustrates this point. My friend was about twelve years old when he’d made a mess of a small chore. His ever-patient mom offered him the opportunity to try it again. My friend was so encouraged by his mother’s faith in him that, the second time around, he completed the task perfectly. My friend shared this story to make a point. “You know,” he said, “God gives us all a lifetime of second chances just like my mom!” I couldn’t agree more.

Generous God, thank you for the second and third and twenty-ninth chances which you offer us day in and day out. Give us the wisdom to embrace every opportunity to begin anew.

©2019 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

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A Bit of God

Good is the Lord…
From Lamentations 3:25

I can’t help thinking that God is always at work within us. This assertion isn’t of my own making. It’s based upon a commonly held belief that God put creation into motion. You may subscribe to the Big Bang Theory, the seven days outlined in Genesis or something in between which indicates that God fashioned all of this.

I also can’t help thinking that God didn’t create from nothing. I like to think that God began with perhaps a breath or a spark or bit of Divine DNA. I opt for the DNA Theory because this implies that everything which has evolved since carries a bit of God within it. What better reason do we have to cherish and to care for all of creation, especially one another? What better reason does God have to continue to work within us?

So it is that it seems appropriate to take stock of that bit of Divine DNA within ourselves. When we realize that God has actually created something good within each one of us, we can insert that goodness into everything we say and do. The result? We’ll embrace every moment with pep in our steps and the certainty that God is indeed at work within us.

Yes, every new moment brings another opportunity to make good use of God’s DNA. Personally, I think God had this is mind all along…

Loving God, thank you for the gift os your DNA. Help us all to make the most of your presence within us.

©2019 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Pray… God Is Listening!

I’ve shared this often, I know… Throughout his time among us, Jesus offered countless revealing glimpses of our generously loving God. As amazing as each of these renderings is, my favorite is Jesus’ portrayal in the Parable of the Prodigal Son. The image of that ever-patient and forgiving father who opened his arms to his terribly wayward child is something I’ve held dear all of my life. It is this image of God as my loving parent which encourages me to open my heart to God without reservation or fear. It is this image which encourages me to seek true intimacy in every utterance I send God’s way. I admit that this is a lifelong process which will likely continue well into my venture into the hereafter!

If you’ve been blessed with a close relationship, you understand the implications of intimacy. When we open our hearts to someone special, we hide nothing from him or her. We don’t allow pretenses or formalities or social norms to get in the way of the reality of who we are. When we share ourselves at this level, we put every flaw and every virtue in full view. When God is our partner in such a relationship, even the things we don’t know about ourselves are known to God. Far too frequently, I face the reality that I’m not perfect. When this occurs, I remind myself that God has been well aware of my glaring flaws all along. I know that, in spite of the pettiness or grandeur of my imperfections, God looks upon me with persistent and consistent love. Because God loves me and all of us so completely, I find the courage to approach God with the confidence Abraham exhibited in today’s passage from Genesis (18:20-32).

Did you notice that each time Abraham spoke he found God to be both approachable and compassionate? The author of Genesis carefully portrayed this encounter as a conversation during which God and Abraham walked side-by-side. In spite of being very much aware that he was in God’s presence, Abraham bargained with his Maker. He pleaded for the lives of the innocent inhabitants of Sodom and Gomorrah. God’s apparent anger was in response to the outcries of many righteous people regarding the evil that festered in the two cities. Still, God listened to Abraham. Initially, Abraham asked that the cities be spared if there were just fifty innocent inhabitants. Then, Abraham begged God to preserve forty-five, forty, thirty, twenty or even ten innocent lives. Each time, God responded sympathetically. The chapter which follows tells us that God answered Abraham’s plea as the lives of the innocents in those otherwise wretched cities were spared. At the same time, we must remember that God also knew the hearts of the evildoers in Sodom and Gomorrah better than they knew themselves. God knew the reasons they did what they did and God loved them as well. I write this with great confidence because Jesus assured us that God’s mercy is never lost on anyone!

In today’s gospel (Luke 11:1-13), Luke shares another occasion on which Jesus revealed to his disciples the God with whom Abraham was so familiar. Jesus had just finished praying himself when his followers asked him to teach them to pray. Jesus responded with this advice: “When you pray, say: Father, hallowed be your name, your kingdom come. Give us each day our daily bread and forgive us our sins, for we ourselves forgive everyone in debt to us, and do not subject us to the final test.” Afterward, Jesus went on to make this instruction regarding prayer perfectly clear. In the event that the disciples had forgotten the persistence of Abraham and God’s generous response to him, Jesus reminded them in no uncertain terms. Jesus spoke of a man who responded to his neighbor’s need in the middle of the night, not so much out of love as out of weariness at the neighbor’s persistence. Jesus added, “And I tell you, ask and you will receive; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you.” Jesus went on to point out the disciples’ concern for their own children: “What father among you would hand his son a snake when he asks for a fish? Or hand him a scorpion when he asks for an egg? If you then, who are wicked, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him?” I assure you that the God of Abraham continues to listen and to provide us all that we need as we journey through this life!

As I wrote today, it occurred to me that I’ve found a second image of God which I must treasure at least as much as that of the father who embraced his prodigal son. In today’s passage from Genesis, the author illustrated the possibilities when we open ourselves to God’s embrace just as that regretful son did. In this account, God and Abraham walk side-by-side. There is no question that Abraham is conversing with God as he would with a dear friend. Apparently, Abraham found this to be perfectly natural. It seems to me that God’s close proximity to Abraham was no accident. God’s close proximity to you and me is no accident either. Though that prodigal son was separated from his father for a while, we are never separated from God. God walks side-by-side with each one of us every step of the way. In our goodness and in our wrong-doing, God is with us. In our joy and in our sorrow, God is with us. So it is that we must take Jesus’ lesson regarding prayer to heart. We must ask and seek and knock because, even today, the God of Abraham listens and responds… Always!

©2019 Mary Penich-All Rights Reserved

Presume To Pray…

Abraham spoke again:
“See how I am presuming to speak to my Lord,
though I am but dust and ashes.”

Genesis 18:27

While waiting to get my hair cut, I overheard a mother and daughter steeped in conversation. The younger of the two was contemplating a tattoo to commemorate her ongoing health battle. She shared that others criticized this gesture as a gloomy reminder of her situation. The girl looked upon this as a banner of hope in recognition of her successful battle. I was seated too close to pretend I didn’t hear. I apologized and then asked the young woman about her health. She identified her disease and smiled at her success to date. A few minutes later, I wished her well as she and her mom went off with their stylists for a bit of TLC.

I was grateful regarding the timing of our parting because I could no longer keep my eyes from filling with tears. Though this young woman has every reason to believe that she will enjoy a long life, I worried. My brother suffered from the same disease decades ago. He didn’t follow his dietary and treatment regimens as well as he might have. Though he had much to live for, he didn’t appreciate his predicament until was too late.

So it was that I prayed… I asked God to be with this young woman as she embraces the days ahead, especially when she becomes discouraged. Then, I prayed for my brother whom I lost too soon. “Lord, give him a warm hug for me.” Then I turned my prayer to him. “You were never one to sit still. Watch over this girl and nudge her onto the right path. Okay?” Though I didn’t hear him say a word, I know my brother rolled up his heavenly sleeves to help!

Thank you, dear God, for listening and for dispensing that hug for me.

©2019 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

God Hears Every Word!

Then he said, “God, please don’t be angry,
but let me speak just once more…”

Genesis 18:32

The July 4th holiday continues to elicit poignant memories. This time, I consider my stepfather. His devotion to this country and to the family he found when he fell in love with my mom were unmistakable. I was almost forty when his final illness took hold. I was heartsick and tempted to abandon the certainty of my childhood prayers. Still, when Bill lay dying, I rekindled my faith in the power of prayer…

I stood at Bill’s bedside. Emphysema had transformed this muscular carpenter into a shadow of his former self. I prayed and asked the God of Abraham to watch with me for a while. Like Abraham, as soon as I had God’s attention, I began negotiating.

First, I asked for relief. My dad’s breathing was terribly labored. “Take away his anxiousness over every breath,” I begged. When I felt assured of that much, I went on. I requested strength for my mom and the rest of us to remain present to him for as long as needed. I knew God was listening and so I continued. This time I set limits on the “as long as needed” part. “If he was my son, I would have him home by Easter!” I challenged God to hear and to respond to my prayer as God did to Abraham’s.

Just a week later, we walked with my step-dad through his passing. It was the night before Easter that I apologized to God for my insolent and demanding prayer. I also thanked God for taking my father home. In spite of my tears, I smiled as I promised to pray with the conviction of Abraham many more times before God and I meet face to face.

Loving and Patient God, thank you for listening and for responding with more than I could ever hope for.

©2019 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

See What God Sees

God looked at everything God made, and God found it very good.
Genesis 3:31

One of the treasures I recall from my childhood is our family bible. Actually, we had two. The first was a single tome, beautifully decorated and meant to serve as a family heirloom. The second was a massive binder made up of separate booklets which came in the mail every month. With each new arrival, my mom carefully removed the bible’s cardboard cover, inserted the new booklet and replaced the cover. Afterward, I poured over this newest edition’s colorful pictures and passages. My favorite was the Book of Genesis. The Creation Story conjured up wonderful images of our amazing God. Only when our first grandchild was born did I truly appreciate that image of God, the most loving Grandparent ever.

I cite the passage above with good reason. When I look at my own grandchildren, I’m certain that I see what God sees. I say this because no matter what they do, I love them. The truth is that I feel this way about my grown sons as well. I wouldn’t trade any one of them for anything else in all of creation. As God observed, they are very good indeed!

Every week or so, we spend an afternoon visiting our granddaughters. A few weeks ago, I resumed my one-day-a-week commitment to babysit for our grandsons while Mommy and Daddy are at work. Oddly, my thoughts return to that childhood bible and my awe over God’s creation. Today, I realize that a special part of that creation has been entrusted to me and I find it (Them all!) to be very good!

Loving God, thank you for this glimpse of what you see when you look upon each one of us.

©2019 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved