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

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How Can I Say This?

Jesus went up to the mountain to pray,
and he spent the night talking to God.

Luke 6:12

I recently participated in a great conversation regarding prayer. As we chatted, those with me shared their favorite means of communicating with God. I repeated what I’ve often shared in this space: I do my best praying while walking outdoors and talking to God in my own words. Since my walks have been less regular these days, I’ve found myself talking to God whenever I’m alone and in the midst of almost everything I’m doing. Still, there have been occasions when I’ve found it impossible to voice my misery or that of someone I’m praying for. When I’m at a loss for the right words, I most often turn to the Book of Psalms. Each of its 150 entries voices sentiments appropriate to either the joyful or the troubling moments which punctuate our lives.

Not long after that conversation, I ran into a friend who’d been there. He couldn’t help telling me about his recent interaction with The Book of Psalms. What he found there had helped him to express himself more meaningfully. My friend reminded me of what I’d said: “When in doubt, go to the psalms.”

When I returned home that day, I pulled out my bible and perused the Book of Psalms for a refresher. Yes, there is a psalm for every occasion under heaven. Take a peek to see for yourself.

Dear God, thank you for the psalmist who spoke so well for us all!

©2019 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Chosen and Loved!

Bless the Lord, all you God’s chosen ones…
From Tobit 13:8

During a recent visit, Grandpa and I watched an episode of Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood with our grandson. This program is an outgrowth of Mr. Roger’s Neighborhood. I fondly recall introducing our sons to Fred Rogers. It never ceased to amaze me that the mild-mannered Mr. Rogers managed to captivate the boys for the duration of every show. The truth is that I enjoyed each episode as much as my sons did, perhaps more so.

I say this because when we became parents, I think my husband and I understood the importance of feeling special and important, wanted and cherished far more than our sons understood these things. As a result, I think their dad and I did a reasonably good job of making them feel loved. Sadly, regardless of the efforts of those around us, many of us feel devalued, unwanted and unimportant. In spite of my parents’ best efforts, I experienced my own childhood moments of dejection and loneliness. I vowed then and there that, should I ever have children of my own, they would know that they are loved no matter what!

When we feel rejected, unloved and lonely, we convince ourselves that no one really cares about us. So it is that I echo the words which inspired Fred Rogers in the first place: YOU are God’s chosen one. God loves YOU even more than I love my sons and far more than you will ever know until you meet God face to face. On that day, God will clear up any doubt you have!

Loving God, thank you for loving each one of us as your precious child. Please give us the wisdom to never forget just how loved we are!

©2019 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Destination: Heaven!

In spite of the heavy traffic, I smiled as we crept along the tollway. Since my dear husband was driving, I’d been taking in the view along the way. Though there wasn’t much more to see than the other vehicles on the road, I was enjoying myself. I wondered about the drivers who hurried along with us. What was it that urged them along their way? I hoped each one would find what he or she hoped for at the end of the drive. Eventually, a semi cab interrupted this musing. It looked rather odd without its trailer in tow. As I wondered who thought up the ingenious design which allowed that trucker to sleep in his rig, I noticed some very large lettering printed across its back. “Destination: Heaven” it said. I wondered what impelled this man to proclaim his final stop to the rest of us. Were the other drivers who shared the road with us heading toward the same end? As Mike continued to make his way through the dense traffic, I asked myself, “What is that trucker’s idea of heaven? What about those other drivers? What about me?”

Since our first grandchild was born, I’ve said at least a thousand times, “I’m in grandma heaven!” Our grandchildren bring Mike and me great joy. I admit to savoring every minute that I spend with each of them. When I gathered for an afternoon with my sisters not long ago, one remarked, “Mmmm. This is heaven!” Though I’m certain she was pleased with our company, her comment was in response to the bit of Godiva chocolate she’d slipped into her mouth. How she loves chocolate! The other day, a friend remarked that she’d been in cruise heaven because she hadn’t set her alarm clock the entire time she was away. Currently, Cub fans find themselves in and out of baseball heaven as their lovable team edges nearer to and then farther from possible post-season play. After the Bears opening game, I won’t mention the possibility of football heaven unless, of course, you’re a Packer fan! I suppose each of us can describe those perfect circumstances which would make us feel that we are immersed in one type of heaven or another. Sometimes, the possibility seems completely out of reach and we dismiss it as pure folly. Sometimes, we convince ourselves that, if only this or that circumstance would conform to our wishes, we’d be in the heaven of our choosing.

In today’s gospel (Luke 15:1-32), Luke tells us that Jesus once told the story a young man who defined and then redefined heaven for himself much the way we do. The young man and his brother lived on the family farm with their father. They worked hand in hand with their dad in order to maintain their prosperous land. Apparently, this arrangement wasn’t the young man’s idea of heaven. He failed to find fulfillment in a hard day’s work and in the fruits of the fields around him. Heaven was something quite different to him. He wanted that heaven so badly that he forsook his own father’s life to get it. You see, the young man asked his father for his portion of his inheritance. When he did this, this son wasn’t simply asking for an advance on his allowance or for a small loan. This son was asking his father to behave as though he was dead and to give him what would be his upon his father’s death. Scripture scholars tell us that the young man could neither insult nor hurt his father more deeply than he did by voicing his demand. It was as though this son said to his father, “I can’t wait for you to die. Behave as you’re dead now and give me what is mine!”

Though you or I might have responded to the young man far differently, that father complied with his son’s wishes. That father gave his son the equivalent of what he would have inherited had this father died that day. With no regret, the young man immediately set out to find the heaven which he’d defined for himself. He invested his inheritance in partying. He spent every penny surrounding himself with the right people, especially those who saw things his way and those who brought him pleasure. He ate the best food and drank the finest wine with his store-bought acquaintances. The young man enjoyed it all without lifting a finger except, of course, to open his money bag to keep things the way he liked them. Eventually, the young man’s resources ran out and he was left without food, friends and finances. In the midst of starvation, he offered himself for hire to a landowner who took him on to tend to his pigs. As he stood in the mud surrounded by swine, the young man considered his predicament and how recklessly wasteful he’d been. He’d not only squandered his inheritance, but he’d also discarded the most important relationships in his life. Full of sorrow and regret, this lost son adjusted his perception of heaven. He set out for the place that once was his home. There, he would beg for a job beside the servants. Though he knew even this was too much to ask, the young man hoped against hope that he would find a parcel of heaven in the shadow of his father’s house. When the young man finally made it home, he was overwhelmed by the heaven he found in his loving father’s embrace.

I wish I’d been among the people who listened as Jesus told the prodigal son’s story. I wish I could have looked into Jesus’ eyes as he described the joy of welcoming home a lost child. In those eyes, I might have caught a glimpse of what my truck driver friend so boldly proclaimed for the rest of us to see. You know, “Destination: Heaven” is listed on each of our itineraries. Though heaven may escape us much of the time during this life, in the end, we will not escape heaven. Our Loving God waits with outstretched arms to warmly embrace every child, prodigal or otherwise, who comes home. On that day, we will actually find heaven just as Jesus promised.

©2019 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Rich In God’s Eyes

Some months after Marie passed away, her daughters sorted through her things. They’d allowed their mourning to ease a bit before dealing with this daunting task. The day they gathered, they lovingly and practically decided what to keep, what to pass on to Marie’s grandchildren and what to give away. All the while, these sisters shared many laughs and shed lots of tears over the memories which surfaced as they worked. An item that drew their attention spoke to one of Marie’s lifelong interests. It was a framed needlepoint rendering of a gray-haired woman sitting next to a mound of assorted fabric. Next to the woman, someone had meticulously stitched, “She who dies with the most fabric wins.” One of Marie’s daughters had gifted her mom with this artwork because Marie purchased fabric whenever it was offered at a good price. Marie’s walk-in closet was literally filled with the stuff when she left her condo for the last time.

Now Marie wasn’t a compulsive buyer. She always purchased fabric with a project in mind. When her daughters were growing up, Marie fashioned most of their clothes and her own. She also upholstered furniture, sewed drapes and did alterations for various family members. Among Marie’s favorite projects were the bridesmaids dresses she fashioned for her daughters’ weddings and the items she sewed for veterans confined to area VA Hospitals. Marie made lap blankets to warm the vets who spent their days in wheelchairs. She made neck pillows for those who were bedridden. She made ditty bags in which all of them could store their personal items for safekeeping. Marie never let anything go to waste. Years after her daughters’ weddings, Marie recycled those old bridesmaid dresses by using their fabric for these same items for women vets. Marie made good use of everything fabric-related. A few years before she passed away, Marie’s hands began to ache with arthritis. When she found that she could clothe herself with purchased items as inexpensively as with what she made for herself, Marie limited her sewing to items for the veterans. Marie determined that she’d use her stockpile in service of those most in need. Though she left her condo with that full closet, she’d actually used most of the fabric she’d collected over the years. Her daughters were quite certain that she had a plan in mind for every leftover bit of it.

Interestingly enough, though sewing was a huge part of Marie’s life, she moved on to other things after she left her condo. Marie concentrated on the new business at hand. She’d taken up residence with one of her daughters and her focus became being a good house-guest. It was Marie’s goal to cause as little disruption as possible in the lives of all concerned. Her sons-in-law agreed that Marie was easy to have around. When Marie was diagnosed with cancer, her life’s work changed once again. Marie’s new goal became to live the life she had left to the fullest just as she always had. All the while, her generosity continued to be evident. Marie enjoyed daily activities in her hospice setting, was a good patient when she needed care, provided upbeat company to her fellow residents, held onto her dignity at all costs and assured her daughters that she was absolutely fine. After four months, Marie left this world peacefully.

In his gospel (Luke 12:13-21), Luke shares Jesus’ parable of the rich man. This fellow seemed to believe, “Whoever dies with the most stuff wins.” Jesus told his friends, “There was a rich man whose land produced a bountiful harvest. He asked himself, ‘What shall I do, for I do not have space to store my harvest?’ And he said, ‘This is what I shall do: I shall tear down my barns and build larger ones. There I shall store all my grain and other goods and I shall say to myself, ‘Now as for you, you have so many good things stored up for many years, rest, eat, drink, be merry!’ But God said to him, ‘You fool, this night your life will be demanded of you; and the things you have prepared, to whom will they belong?’ Thus will it be for all who store up treasure for themselves but are not rich in what matters to God.’” The poor rich man didn’t understand the blessing that wealth of any sort is meant to be. He busied himself with building up storehouses of his own treasure rather than using what he had to enrich those God had given him to love. Poor rich man that he was, he didn’t enjoy loving others as much as he enjoyed loving himself. Poor rich man that he was, he didn’t understand at all the things that truly matter and the things that should have mattered to him.

Through everything that she said and did, Marie gave new meaning to her daughter’s needlepoint gift. Marie’s efforts echoed the message Jesus shared with his disciples that day. She who dies with the most fabric does win when she does as Marie did. Whether sticking to her meager budget by sewing for herself, clothing her children or making things for her vets, Marie used her wealth of talent well. Even that leftover stockpile served others after Marie’s passing because her daughters saw to it. It seems to me that the moral of the story is this: Whether we’ve been blessed with the ability to sew or to listen, with a kind heart, a healthy stock portfolio, patience or… you get the idea. God asks only that we take as good care of others as we do of ourselves with what we have. The truth is that I learned this firsthand. I’m the one who purchased that little needlepoint artwork. Marie is my mom.

©2019 Mary Penich-All Rights Reserved

Caring For You…

Truly you have formed my inmost being;
you knit me in my mother’s womb.
I give you thanks that
I am fearfully, wonderfully made.

Psalm 139:14

A friend recently shared that she isn’t going to oversee an annual project this year. Though this effort supported a very worthy cause, she simply cannot expend the energy required this time around. She’s getting over the care-taking and recent loss of a loved one and she needs a break. I congratulated my friend for being caring enough and objective enough to prioritize all that is expected of her these days. That event needs to rank among the least of her concerns just now.

It occurs to me that each of us needs to take stock of our activities and responsibilities from time to time. Sometimes, we wrestle with self-imposed burdens which are sometimes far less important than we consider them to be. So it is that I will follow my friend’s example in the days ahead. It’s obvious that I should place the needs of my loved ones first. The difficulty comes with less pressing tasks which perhaps do more for my self-concept than they actually do for anyone else or for me. In the end, my need to love, to serve, to write and to rest must all be considered honestly and with the best interests of all concerned in mind.

Loving God, you have gifted us with a work-ethic and a love-ethic. Help us to live up to both with generosity and good judgment. Help us also to love and to care for ourselves in the process.

©2019 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved