God With Us… ALWAYS!

Give me back the joy of your salvation,
and a willing spirit sustain in me.

Psalm 51:14

I’m grateful for those who read my work. Though I’m usually unsure of what will result when I sit at my keyboard, I write with purpose and with conviction. For some reason, I feel that this is what I’m meant to do. Sometimes, I feel that this is more God’s idea than my own.

I’ve spent a lifetime sorting out my experiences of God. I’m awed by God’s enduring presence, mercy and love. These gifts remain consistent regardless of the issues I may deal with at one time or another with my faith, my Church, my loved ones, my not-so-loved ones, my situation, myself… You get the idea. My point is that God never abandons us. Regardless of the mess we may make of things at a given point in time, God’s love remains. When I find myself feeling unlike one of God’s children, I echo the psalmist’s words cited above. I acknowledge my frailty and I ask God to take over for me for as long as needed.

I write about these things because we all struggle at one time or another. I find peace in my ability to offer a bit of peace to another suffering soul. Because their discouragement touches my human heart deeply, I become more convinced than ever of how lovingly and encouragingly God listens and suffers with us.

When our troubles are too heavy to carry alone, we simply have to turn them over to God.

Loving and Merciful God, touch the aching hearts of those who need you. Remind us that you are with us in everything.

©2020 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Z… Zenith

Great is God and wholly
to be praised in the city.
God’s holy mountain, fairest of heights,
is the joy of all the earth.

Psalm 48:2-3ab

Z is for Zenith. Zenith… the high point, the point directly overhead, the peak, the pinnacle, the summit. As the psalmist wrote, the fairest of heights. When good things happen to us we say that our spirits are high or that we are uplifted. Though I don’t think there is actually a direction toward heaven, I turn my eyes upward to pray. I reference my loved ones “up there” and I visualize God and the heavenly cohort looking down from above upon me.

God’s “above-ness” does not imply in any way that God is unwilling to dirty those Divine Hands with the troubles of this world. Oddly, God’s assigned position “above” never stops me from pulling God down into the worst of messes. More importantly, this position “above” never stops God from responding. No, our God who loves us from the fairest of heights also loves us from the deepest of trenches. No wonder God is the joy of all the earth!

Today, I thank you for making your way through this alphabet of reflections with me. Though I fretted a bit about actually taking us from A to Z, God intervened often. The good people around me, the wonders of creation and the scriptures never ceased to inspire. Indeed, God is the joy of all the earth and the source of joy for me!

Loving God, thank you for lighting the way as we journey through this life and home to you. Your presence throughout this ABC side-trip has been most tangible. It is also most appreciated. Thank you for using me to spread your love. Use us all to light the way to your holy mountain.

©2020 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Y… Yearning

My soul yearns and pines
for the courts of the Lord.
My heart and my soul
cry out for the living God.

Psalm 84:3

Y is for Yearning. Sometimes, only God will do.

After retiring from his first career as a school principal, my husband worked as a hospice chaplain. This work touched him deeply. Though we consider ourselves to be “God-aware” people, this experience brought new depth in this regard to both of us. Mike observed often that, when a patient seemed to have lost every means of communication, he or she somehow managed to acknowledge prayer. Whether by squeezing a hand, blinking an eye, smiling ever so slightly or whispering an “amen”, each one became present when it was time to pray. Even some patients who endured comas seemed to breathe more calmly when those around them prayed. When all else was said and done, God remained present to each one.

Though most of us are not in need of hospice care at the moment, we are all in need of God. When no one else can comprehend our suffering, it is God who experiences every bit of it with us. When we cannot mouth a single word to explain, God understands. When we cannot breathe without shedding more tears, God is with us.

In times of suffering when I feel that no one understands my heartbreak, I feel completely alone for only a millisecond. Within that instant, I realize that God is with me and that, sometimes, only God will do.

Merciful and loving God, thank you for satisfying my yearning for your presence. Thank you for truly being God With Us.

©2020 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

W… Write

God is good and upright
and God shows us the way.
God guides the humble to justice
and teaches the humble goodness.

Psalm 25:8-9

W is for Write. Though I do most of my writing at my keyboard, I was recently reminded that I write perhaps more effectively with my attitudes, words and actions. Though I would like to leave something significant to posterity in written form, the truths I share through my life will be far more long-lasting. A wise priest once shared that perhaps the point of all of our lives is to write a gospel by the way we live. Though he made this comment years ago, I can’t seem to let go of this gospel-writing challenge. Just as no book store owner can predict who will pick up and browse through the best sellers, travel books and bibles in stock, I cannot predict who will read my attitudes, my next word or the things I do at any given moment. Whether I opt to or not, I’m writing my gospel with every breath I take. Since I can’t choose who will “read” what I produce at any given moment, it makes sense to me to take this project to heart.

I find this all a bit frightening as I’ve uttered some things which I hope will be forgotten and I’ve done some things that I wish I could undo. Unfortunately, I cannot edit these things out of my life. I find some consolation in the knowledge that my fellow humans share a bit of this regret with me at one time or another. So it is that we must all proceed with writing our lives’ gospels and we must do so with heartfelt determination. May we encourage one another when the results are positive and may we edit one another mercifully when we haven’t done our best. Yes, W is for Write. May we all write with care.

Loving God, be with us as we write the pages of our lives. Help us to reveal your wonder in everything we say and do.

©2020 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

V… Vision

And the Spirit lifted me up and
brought me in a vision to the Spirit of God…

From Ezekiel 11:24 Ezekiel 11:24-25

V is for Vision. This reference has nothing to do with my ability to see the world around me. The vision to which I refer is that internal sense of direction which guides each of us when all else fails. Though I’ve weathered some difficult events and losses in my own life, these things pale in the shadow of the suffering which others endure. I cannot help being amazed as those around me cope with their circumstances. Though situation after situation promises only the most dire outcome, these suffering souls proceed and endure with hope and grace.

As I consider my own life, I know that each incidence of survival was transformed into triumph by God who remained deep within me. Though I could see no end to the suffering on the surface, I knew better days lay ahead. Somehow, I could see that all would be well in God’s time. Those who have shared their stories with me are absolutely convinced that they completed their journeys through suffering unscathed only because they remained focused upon God all the while.

V is for Vision, our vision of our ever-loving, ever-merciful and ever-caring God who walks with us through everything. Even when that vision is blurred a bit by our tears, God remains at our sides.

Loving God, thank you for remaining with us, even when we fail to open the eyes of our hearts to you. Enhance our vision that we may always see that you are here.

©2020 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

God’s Unique Handiwork

I admit that today I’m writing quickly and offering prayers of thanksgiving all the while. The good deacon and I are returning to Israel for a final visit. While I’m absolutely thrilled about this, completing everything on our to-do lists beforehand has been challenging. When I finally felt that I had things under control, Mike reminded me that we needed to head north to check on our little cabin in the woods before boarding that plane. Fortunately, this bit of caretaking could be accomplished in a single day. Three days later, we set out just after the morning rush-hour morphed into manageable traffic. Mike chose the new scenic route we discovered during a recent stormy drive home. Though I rarely read in the car, I turned to this week’s scripture passages to get a head start on this writing. I needed inspiration and I hoped that it would come in the scenery I’d enjoy along the way. Though I read and reread the scriptures, I didn’t receive that nudge from above which elicits an audible “aha” and an idea I can’t ignore…

As it happened, we made excellent time until we saw what seemed to be a huge cloud of fog looming over the road ahead. Before we could comment on that eerie vision, we realized that the fog was actually a mass of tiny snowflakes which grew larger with every passing second. While Mike lamented the possibility of driving that last hour in a blizzard, I whispered a prayer of gratitude. As the poor man carefully drove on, the beautiful flakes dancing around the car captivated me. “Thank you!” I whispered again. I didn’t realize as I prayed that my plea for inspiration would soon be answered quite generously.

You see, of all of the amazing beauty which nature offers, I love snow most. As a little girl, my favorite art projects involved making snowflakes. I remember my teacher patiently demonstrating how to fold and cut scraps of white paper to fashion beautiful snow designs. She reminded us not to worry about the patterns we’d make because each of our creations was meant to be as different as real snowflakes. In the end, we covered our classroom windows with hundreds of unique bits of paper snow. Years later, a high school science teacher confirmed that every snowflake is different. During college, while I waited for Chicago el trains many a wintry day, I studied the snowflakes that rested on my blue pea coat. Their uniquely intricate artistry fascinated me.

As Mike and I drove through what evolved into a mere twenty minute diversion, I took advantage of the opportunity to study snow once again. Did you know that some snowflakes seem to fall in straight lines to the ground while others just a few inches away slant to the right or the left? Still others puff up into billowy clouds before making their descent. Some snowflakes zigzag to and fro regardless of the presence or absence of the wind. When the wind makes itself known, these seemingly hapless comings and goings continue more frenetically than ever. As I reminded myself that it was I who should move frenetically because of all I had to do, my spirit basked in the beauty of the snowfall that blanketed our car that day. As Mike navigated through that mini blizzard, the inspiration I was granted came to fruition.

It occurred to me that you and I aren’t very different from the snowflakes that brought me such peace that day. Each of us is unique in his or her own right. In spite of our opinions or those of others, our personal packaging and personalities, interests and talents are among God’s best work. Some of us travel in straight lines, while others zigzag with a bit of uncertainty or simply because they choose to do so. Still others find themselves suspended in the clouds before making their way home. Some travel only to the right or to the left. All of us adjust our courses with the wind. Is that wind actually God’s Spirit guiding and inspiring us along the way? In the end, like snowflakes, God sprinkles us where we’re meant to be to transform this earth as only we can.

In today’s Gospel, Matthew (4:12-23) tells us that Jesus was heartbroken over the death of his cousin John the Baptist. Still, Jesus followed God’s Spirit and John’s work by beginning his own work among us. Convinced of our importance to one another, Jesus began his ministry by calling others to his side. Peter and Andrew, James and John couldn’t imagine where that journey might take them, yet they willingly became the first of the community who would follow Jesus. Like the snowflakes which tossed and turned in the wind outside of our car, the disciples’ lives turned topsy-turvy during the three years that followed. All the while, God’s Spirit led them as Jesus walked at their sides. In the end, Jesus and his friends transformed the world even more beautifully than the blanket of snow that surrounded us on the way to the cabin that day.

Jesus invites you and me to answer God’s call and to open ourselves up to God’ Spirit as well. Though our journeys will likely not be as adventurous as those of the first disciples, our impact upon this world can be equally dramatic. Whether we veer to the left or the right, zigzag or land in a cloud, when we move with God’s Spirit, we accomplish what we are called to do and we end precisely where we are meant to be.

©2020 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved