God Is With Us

As for you, every hair of your head has been counted;
so do not be afraid of anything.

From Matthew 10:28-33

I will always be grateful for the amazing authors I met through reading assignments throughout college. Though these were not face-to-face encounters, they were certainly life-changing. Elisabeth Kübler-Ross pioneered near-death experience studies. I read her work for a class on death and dying. The good doctor’s scientific research regarding life after this life underscored what my faith had already convinced me was true. While she endured ridicule from others in her field, Kübler-Ross persisted. In the aftermath, many well respected medical professionals substantiated and added to her research. Many others continue to do so today.

I read Nobel Laureate and Holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel for a philosophy class. This amazing man’s stalwart spirit sustained him through one of human history’s most heinous episodes. His endurance continues to inspire me during the difficulties with which our world wrestles today.

These authors touched me with the amazing strength they exhibited in the face of adversity. Though our encounters through the written word occurred decades ago, they continue to inspire much of what I do.

Loving God, every one of us meets adversity along the way. Help me not to fear the bumps in the road ahead because You will walk over them or around them with me.

©2014 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

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Whom Shall I Fear?

The Lord is my light and my salvation;
whom should I fear?
The Lord is my life’s refuge;
of whom should I be afraid?

From Psalm 27

A few hours ago, I asked myself this very question. “Whom -and what- should I fear?” For all of my life, I have been convinced that God is with me. When others are suffering, after offering my own presence to them, I remind them that we are never alone in our troubles. Still, a few hours ago as I struggled to endure an MRI, I could not overcome my overwhelming claustrophobia, and I had to stop the procedure.

All the while, I prayed. I counted away the seconds. I listened to the music the technician piped in for me. I attempted to recall the beautiful places I visited in Alaska just a few days ago. I pictured my husband waiting for me in the next room. I pictured my sons, their amazing wives and our three precious granddaughters. In spite of all of this, I remained fixated the huge bit of machinery looming over me. Though it seemed like hours, it was only five minutes into this test when I squeezed the call button for help.

I admit that I felt like an utter failure. I felt completely alone though my husband and the technician could not have been more supportive. I felt completely abandoned because I could not “feel” God’s presence. Just seconds before I pushed that button, I tearfully cried, “Where are you, Lord?”

The technician consoled me and encouraged me not to worry as I had made a valiant effort. My husband encouraged me further as he reminded me of his own failed MRI advnture a few years ago. As we walked into this morning’s sunlight, God offered encouragement as well. “Life is tough, Mary,” God seemed to say. “This was one of those tough times for you, I know. You did your best and that’s all you could do.”

Dearest Lord, in the grand scheme of things, I know that enduring an MRI is nothing to complain about. Our sad world is filled with much greater suffering. Still, you took the time to comfort me and to encourage me. Forgive me for questioning your presence because I know you are with us in everything. Regardless of how alone I may “feel”, I know you are here.

Who do you say that I am?

Who do you say that I am? Luke (9:18-24) tells us that when Jesus posed this question, Peter responded quickly. Peter typically replied to Jesus’ queries without hesitation. Sometimes, Peter’s promptness served him well. At other times, some forethought would have saved Peter a good deal of heartache. I am afraid that over the years I have shared Peter’s propensity to respond quickly with similar results. At times, hurriedly speaking up remedied tough situations. At other times, I have made things worse by opening my mouth before my good sense filtered out words which needed to remain unspoken. The good news is that I have spent a lifetime considering the question Jesus poses today. Here is my answer, Lord…

Who do You say that I am? When I was five years old, my family and I walked to church to attend my little sister’s baptism. We celebrated afterward with a family party. Our faith was extremely important to my parents and to our extended family. We marked joyful and sorrowful milestones, as well as the time in between, with acknowledgements of God’s Presence. You, my God, are the One who is always with us.

Who do you say that I am? As I grew, I learned a good deal about love. I found that, more than anything else, we all want to be loved, even when we act as though we do not need others. My parents and our extended family loved me, each in his or her own way, as best they could. Still, there were days when I felt that I was not at all loveable and that I was not at all loved. I ended those days with an aching heart. As I soaked my pillow with tears, I turned to God. You, my God, are the One who always listens.

Who do you say that I am? I clearly recall being angry with God at age sixteen. I knew deep down that I was drawn to the convent. I loved my aunts, Sister Gerard, Sister Ida Marie and Sister Marie Raoul, and I loved many of the sisters I had met along the way. I had little patience with trivial pursuits. I cared about the poor and the outcasts who tried to survive on the fringes of teenage life. I felt deep compassion for my mom who worked much harder than she should have had to work. I avoided trouble because I could not bear to give her anything more to worry about. I was angry because, just once, I wanted to be a “normal” person who did not worry quite so much about everyone and everything. I did not realize that there were lots of “normal’ people around me who shared my woes. Angry as I was toward God for making me who I am, God never stopped peeking around corners, showing up on a sunny day or smiling through the face of a friend who understood. You, my God, are the one who remains faithful to us.

Who do you say that I am? As it happened, God had other plans for me. I spent a summer during college living with two nuns. We taught English to Spanish-speaking children to prepare them for school. Sister Liz and Sister Rose taught me to enjoy life a bit more and to worry a bit less. They also encouraged me to accept a date with the young teacher who was hanging out at the rectory. The following year, I completed college, secured a teaching job for the fall, and married that teacher during the summer in between. I second-guessed myself often regarding my ability to teach and to be a wife. I persisted only because God gifted me with unexpected insight along the way. You, my God, are the God of Surprises.

Who do you say that I am? This past weekend, I found God in our sons, our daughters-in-law and our granddaughters. As we celebrated Father’s Day, my husband and I enjoyed a glimpse of love fulfilled in the remarkable people whom we are blessed to call our family. Regardless of the circumstances which challenge us along the way, our love for this family and their love for us carries us through. As we enjoyed our dinner together, I saw that God, too, has been with me during my happiest, loneliest, most frightening and challenging moments. As I smile and cry, dance and sing, fret and rejoice along the way, God is with me. When I crawl into bed each night, God wraps me in a blanket of love whether I need it or not. Who do you say that I am? You, my God, are the God of Unconditional and Unending Love.

©2013 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Trinity Sunday

As a child, I often puzzled over the things I learned about God. I imagined God to be the kindly and caring Creator who appeared in our children’s bible. I still remember the rendering of our benevolent Maker looking lovingly upon Adam and Eve and the menagerie of animals provided to keep them company. My experiences at home confirmed my impressions quite dramatically.

I was only five when my uncle became ill. The 1950s offered no antibiotics to fight pneumonia. The curvature of my uncle’s spine further complicated his condition. As a very young child, Uncle Gee contracted polio which left his body severely bent and compromised his breathing. When he first became ill, we gathered in the living room to say the rosary every night. We prayed for our uncle’s recovery until it became evident that he would not survive. One evening, my mom changed our intention from “a full recovery” to “a happy death.” Because this dear uncle lived with us, his looming loss devastated us. My dad responded by assuring us that all would be well. My dad held us close as he explained that Uncle Gee was going to heaven. My dad insisted that everything in heaven is perfect and that God would make our uncle perfect, too. The pneumonia would be gone and his back would be as straight as can be. When my uncle passed away a few days later, I cried because I would miss him. Still, I knew that all was well. My caring Creator came through for Uncle Gee, just as God would for both my grandpas and my dad who passed away only a few years afterward.

As I grew into a second grader, I continued to puzzle over the things I learned about God. Though I had known about Jesus, I did not consider how Jesus fit into my image of God until the year I received First Communion. I listened carefully to all that Sister taught us about Jesus. When our parish priest visited our classroom to tell us more, I found that Father’s images of Jesus were most tangible. I liked what I heard. The parables Jesus told concurred with the image I had of my kindly and caring Creator God. All that Jesus said and did illustrated the magnitude of God loves for each of us. Young as I was, I found great joy and great consolation in the knowledge that, no matter what I did, God would always love me.

It was on or about my thirteenth birthday when the things which seemed so clear a year or month or day earlier become unexplainably murky. So it happened that I continued to puzzle over the things I learned about God. I realize that the adults around me to whom I had looked for guidance were not the perfect people I thought they were. What was worse, when I looked in the mirror, the sweet little girl I used to see had morphed into someone I hardly recognized. Though my mom continued to be a person of faith and Sister and Father continued to share their wisdom regarding God, I puzzled over my impressions of God all the more. Fortunately, Confirmation approached and becoming an adult Christian became the topic of the year. I had plenty to puzzle over as Sister and Father presented every sort of “what if” scenario. “How would an adult Christian respond?” they asked my classmate and me. In the end, we learned that our choices would grow in difficulty and in importance as we grew older. In the end, we also understood that we did not have to make difficult choices alone. God’s Holy Spirit would inspire and strengthen us, clarifying the situation and sanctifying our very souls until we made our way home to heaven. Once again, I liked what I heard regarding the constancy of God’s love for me.

This Trinity Sunday, we celebrate the wonder of God. Though my childhood musings cannot begin to explain the Blessed Trinity, they can explain the reasons we rejoice today. Ours is the God of Love revealed in the caring Creator who breathed life into us all. Ours is the God of Love who became one of us to reveal the true happiness found in caring for one another and in opening our hearts to Divine Love. Ours is the God of Love whose Spirit comes in the raging winds and gentle whispers which urge us on to be our best. Ours is the God of Love who loves and cares deeply for each and every one of us.

©2013 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Thursday, The Fifth Week of Lent

“Abraham your father rejoiced to see my day; he saw it and was glad.”
From John 8:51-59

Early in my teaching career, I was trained to implement a reading program which reported amazing results. This training year and the years of teaching that followed proved the research to be true. Eventually, I studied further in order to spread the word by training other teachers. The school districts and teachers who adhered to the program’s standards experienced great success with children who might otherwise have been candidates for retention or special education. I considered myself most blessed to have been a part of all of this, and I embraced every opportunity to share what I had learned.

Unfortunately, the economy often forces schools to tighten their budgets, and supplementary programs are the first to go. I argued often that there is nothing “supplementary” about seeing to it that every student learns to read. If I had my way, this program would be available in every school to every child who needs it.

In the scripture passage above, those who hear Jesus are unable to move beyond the status quo. They cling to the way things have always been in spite of the goodness they see before them. Some of the Temple hierarchy and some of the people at large question Jesus as he promises that his word will keep them from death. They point out that Abraham did die and that Jesus is certainly no greater than Abraham. When Jesus insists that he is from God and that their father Abraham smiles upon his work, the crowd is convinced that Jesus is possessed. As they pick up rocks to stone him, Jesus slips away.

Jesus, though much of what we do is good, none of it compares to what God accomplishes through you. When we fail to recognize your work in our lives and in the lives of those around us, open our eyes and our hearts. Help us to recognize that God truly does work in sometimes strange ways. Help us to see that it is up to us to acknowledge God’s goodness wherever God chooses to reveal it.