Our Best Friend Forever

God is near to all who call…
From Psalm 145:18

While de-cluttering my bookshelves for the umpteenth time, I came across a stack of prayer cards. One caught my attention because it is a homemade creation I picked up at a craft sale some time ago. The anonymous prayer featured on the card expresses the sentiments of someone who wishes each of us to experience God as powerfully as he or she does. This prayer doesn’t ask that others are blessed with a keen knowledge of church teaching or of the scriptures or of theology. Though these are all good places to seek some understanding of God, this prayer asks that we sense God’s presence not only with our minds, but with our hearts as well. It occurred to me that this prayer’s author knows God in the same way that he or she knows the best of friends. What is more amazing is that God seems to reciprocate this relationship in very tangible ways.

I’ve taken that prayer card and given it a new home on my desk. Every day when I check my calendar, it reminds me to talk to God with the open and loving heart of this prayer’s author. I can think of nothing better for any of us than to truly understand with our heads and our hearts that God loves us passionately and remains with us always. Indeed, God is a best friend to us all.

Dear God, thank you for showing yourself to us in so many ways. Please, reveal your friendship so unmistakably that we can’t miss your presence around us and within us.

©2019 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

God Fuels Our Hope

I surprised myself the other day when I woke an hour later than usual. Before I could tell myself that I must have needed the extra sleep, a slit of light at the window caught my eye. “Thank you for the sunshine,” I whispered. Though the snow that coated everything on Halloween had long since disappeared, clouds and cold temperatures lingered for days afterward. What a thrill is was to open the shades to embrace this new day! Since my dear husband had already headed to the kitchen for coffee, I stayed at the window to admire the crisp and sunny November morning. “Ah,” I told myself, “Maybe Mike and the boys won’t freeze today!” On this beautiful Saturday, our sons planned to whisk their dad away to celebrate his birthday. They’d visit a favorite brewery and then move on to dinner. This remained top secret until Mike arrived at the designated establishment with our out-of-town friend Matt. Only when the two were greeted with a “Happy Birthday!” by our sons did Mike realize he was being surprised. As for me, I was thrilled to be a part of this undercover operation. All the while, I recounted the decades of days I’ve had with this husband of mine. Where has the time has gone, Lord?

Change has been a constant throughout our life together. Mike lived in North Chicago and I lived in real Chicago when we met. A year later, we married and I left the city to move north. The good news was that I secured a job I loved in the North Chicago Schools where Mike also worked. The bad news was that I left my family and friends to do this. A few years into our union, we found a house that was just right. However, that find also required my commitment to become a working mom when a child came along. A few years later, we were thrilled by our older son’s arrival. Four months later, I tearfully dropped off Mikie at our babysitter’s home and then drove on to work. Our second son didn’t come along for quite some time. Fertility issues had delayed his eventual miraculous arrival. This time, I returned to work when Timmy was two and Mikie was ten. Throughout the years that followed, Mikie morphed into Mike and Timmy grew into Tim. Throughout those years, the good deacon was ordained, the 9/11 tragedy occurred and we both lost our moms. Our kids fought off the usual illnesses, my sister was diagnosed with lung cancer and we lost her. Several other precious loved ones succumbed to a variety of illnesses and old age. Our sons graduated college and moved on to good jobs. They married wonderful young women who joined them in giving us five much-loved grandchildren. All the while, the world’s troubles remained and, in some cases, worsened. Our own troubles came and went as well. We didn’t escape our own illnesses, job-related woes and concerns regarding church. Still, I give thanks that life has been oddly joyful and sweet. At the same time, I feel a little out of place in the peacefulness of it all. Are you trying to tell me something, Lord?

When I finally joined Mike in the kitchen that morning, I drifted toward the window to admire the bright blue sky. It would soon hide behind gray clouds. Sadly, I had to acknowledge that the same beautiful sky too often reigns over ominously sad and troubled days for us all. So many weren’t particularly peaceful at that moment. I imagined the sounds of gunfire and explosions across the ocean. I cringed as merciless winds and crackling embers continued their assault on the west coast. A friend who battles leukemia girded himself to fight all that this enemy has in store. Another friend hoped for love with absolute uncertainty regarding how to proceed. The world’s poor hoped for very little as their struggles persisted. A childless couple hoped their child would soon come. I took one last peek at the slowly disappearing blue above. Are you telling me something here, Lord?

I told myself that generations have come and gone under this sky and that more will do the same in the years, decades and centuries ahead. Oddly joyful and oddly sweet days will continue to punctuate human history, just as moments of despair and sadness will leave their marks. As I considered the tough times which touched my own life, I was amazed that I continued to find cause to feel genuinely grateful. Even in my sorrow, I’d been blessed. Trying times will always be a part of our experience on this earth. At the same time, recovery from these things will also always be a part of our lives here. You are telling me something, Lord!

When I sat at my keyboard to begin this writing, sunshine reappeared for a just a few seconds. “Where is that coming from?” I asked as I read the scriptures for this day. The readings from Malachi (3:19-20) and Luke (21:5-19) explain: We must never ever lose heart, especially when we’re tempted by despair. God insists that, regardless of our suffering here, peace and joy are the mainstay of heaven. God insists that these blessings aren’t a matter of hope. They are reality. Every day, God finds ways to fuel our hope until it is fully realized in eternity.

©2019 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

When Necessary, Walk!

“Whatever place does not welcome you or listen to you,
leave there and shake the dust off your feet…”

Mark 6:11

I admit it. I find it extremely difficult to shake the dust off my feet. Though I can write-off imprudent causes, I rarely do the same when it comes to my fellow humans. The few instances in which I have done so were the result of impending danger to someone I love.

This propensity to stay connected is partially genetic and partially learned. My parents opened their door to everyone. I recall my mom saying, “I leave the door open. If people choose not to come in, it’s their loss.” Jesus welcomed everyone who crossed his path as well. Since I subscribe to Jesus’ way of life, I try to welcome people as Jesus did.

Still, there are people who really aren’t good for us. They may not cause physical harm, but they take a psychological or spiritual toll on us. I find that if my gut is having a strong reaction to someone, I need to listen. This doesn’t necessarily mean that I need never to speak to this person again. However, it may mean that I should limit our contact as best I can.

I know this seems like an odd topic for a daily reflection. I included it because sometimes good people think that part of “being good” is to allow ourselves to be hurt unnecessarily. Our loving God could not disagree more.

Loving God, as you walk with us, keep us safe and wise. Help us to recognize potential harm and guide us away from its source.

©2019 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Hold Onto The Joy

The moral is: keep your eyes open,
for you know not the day or hour.

Matthew 25:13

A recent “thank you” note regarding a funeral my husband and I attended reminded me of my own loss. I can usually set aside such reminders and get on with the task at hand, but not today. Perhaps it’s the lack of sunlight and the determined clouds which dominate the sky. Perhaps it’s my own November mood. Whatever the cause, my thoughts turn to one of the toughest losses of my life…

I expected to hear that her recovery might be lengthy, that her dementia might increase and that we needed to be prepared for a decline. Our mom’s body was growing tired. I didn’t expect to hear about the cancer, her four-month life expectancy and the possibility of pain. We told our mother the news…

Mom shared our surprise at the diagnosis, but not at the outcome. “We all have to die from something. I’ve had a good long life. I wanted to leave an educated family that contributes and I have. I hope I can do what I want for a while. I hope I can be comfortable. I hope I go without too much trouble. I hope…” I hoped, too.

Though her diagnosis was unexpected, the outcome was precisely what my mom had hoped for. The pain never came. Mom did everything she hoped to until her last two days. On the day she left us, my mom’s eyes weren’t open, but her heart was. I know she wasn’t disappointed!

Patient God, rather than suffering my mom’s loss as though she left yesterday, I should be dancing with joy for her and so I will!

©2019 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Love Works!

…proclaim the good news there also.
From Mark 1:38

The other day, Grandpa and I played a board-game with our granddaughters. The youngest had been doing well until my game piece landed on the same square as hers. Her guy had to return to start to begin the trek around the board once again. Poor Claire was beside herself. She ran from the table crying that she was tired of being picked on. Now I shouldn’t put this in writing, but I am Claire’s favorite. So it was particularly painful to hear her say that I was picking on her. As I formulated the words to respond, a similar adventure with Claire’s dad came to mind…

When my son was about the same age, he wasn’t at all happy with what I’d asked him to do. In response, he shouted “I hate you!” I never used that word and it broke my heart to hear it from my little boy. Still, I remained calm until Mike’s bedroom door slammed. It was then that the tears flowed. When I went out to the backyard to recover, I saw my neighbor. Ellie had been a great friend to my husband and me and an auxiliary grandma to Mike. Still teary-eyed, I told her what happened. “Did your kids ever say that?” I asked. “Sure they did. They’re kids. And you know what I did? I pulled them close and said, ‘Well, that’s okay because I still love you!’” Ellie noted that this gesture quickly put an end to such talk. With that, I went to my son’s room to remind him that I loved him. I couldn’t help smiling when he said he loved me, too.

My encounter with Claire ended just as happily.

Dear God, love makes sense always and everywhere. Help us to transform our own relationships and this world with love.

©2019 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Gratefully Drawn In

They immediately abandoned their nets
and became his followers.

Mark 1:18

If you’ve been reading my posts for a while, you know that God’s story drew me in when I was very young, probably before I entered kindergarten. It seems reasonable to attribute this phenomenon to my parents who took their faith to heart. Though money was tight in our house, my mom purchased a family bible series which arrived in monthly installments. Each edition included a book from the bible with colorful artwork which brought its stories to life. I recall pouring over the pages with my younger sisters. Years later, when my teachers referenced the scriptures during religion class, images from that bible resurfaced, bringing their lessons to life once again.

If I could be so taken by these stories which chronicle God’s interactions with humankind, it’s no wonder that so many who met Jesus face to face were immediately drawn to him. Consider the disciples who walked away from their businesses to follow Jesus. What was it that drew them in? Simon and Andrew were strong, burly, hard-working men. Still, they left their livelihoods to follow Jesus. Martha and Mary opened their home and hearts to Jesus. Mary Magdalene’s devotion to him was immediate and complete. Was simply being nearby enough to draw people to Jesus?

Though I’ve learned a good deal about Jesus, what strikes me most is his acceptance of everyone who came his way. I also appreciate his talk about forgiveness and God’s unconditional love. When I consider this Jesus whom I’ve come to know, I understand the disciples attraction to him.

Good and Generous God, thank you for the gift of yourself and for the gift of Jesus. You have transformed my life from the moment I first heard your name.

©2019 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved