Always Forgiven and Always Loved

God says, “From the least to the greatest, you know me.
I forgive your evildoing and remember your sin no more.

Jeremiah 31:34

My husband spent the afternoon searching for flowers to plant around our yard. Armed with mask, gloves, hand sanitizer and the resolve to social distance, he enjoyed a safe and productive afternoon. I took advantage of the quiet house by sitting at my keyboard to write. Sadly, I wasn’t as productive as Mike. Before beginning, I glanced at photos from my childhood which rest inches above my keyboard. Rather than offering my usual reminiscent smile and then getting to work, a recent bit of self-doubt turned my thoughts to a painful aspect of that childhood.

When I was little, I was a bit too sensitive. I was no less innocent than most children, yet I took even the smallest reprimand to heart. Though the adult involved quickly forgot whatever I’d done, my guilt remained with me. All of this was my own doing. My parents never belittled my siblings or me. Though a teacher may have given me reason to question my ability to be forgiven on occasion, this wasn’t the norm. I eventually came to understand, at least mentally, that those who love us don’t hold grudges. It was my own propensity to retain guilt which caused my angst. These decades later, this tendency remains to some extent. So it was that my self-doubt prevailed until I remembered the words from Jeremiah which I cite today.

This and numerous other passages reference God’s forgiveness. Each one assures us of God’s absolute love and God’s absolute inability to be separated from any one of us. Though we try to run away, God remains with us and within us. Neither we nor anyone else can impose enough guilt upon us to repel God. For this, I’m most grateful!

Loving God, help us to let go of our guilt as quickly as you do. Only then will we be free to embrace your love.

©2020 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Home, Sweet Home

I was hard pressed and was falling,
but the Lord helped me.

Psalm 118:13

An unexpected April snow drew my eyes to the kitchen window. When I looked through those dancing flakes, I noticed a little bird perched near a hole in our bird house. My feathered friend peered into that hole several times, but didn’t enter. I wondered if he was debating whether or not to move in. I didn’t understand his hesitation because it was quite cold outside. Still, that little bird seemed reluctant to jump into what might be a questionable living situation.

A while later, I returned to the window to see if that bird persisted in his indecision. I sighed a sigh of relief for my feathered friend as he was sitting in the bird house peeking out. I watched for several minutes as his head disappeared and reappeared over and over again. Apparently, he had found his new digs to be suitable shelter from that snow after all.

As I walked away from the window, I considered my own shelter. Actually, it’s my husband’s and mine. Like that little bird, I wondered how this shelter would serve Mike and me for the duration of our stay-at-home response to COVID-19. Fortunately for us, someone has kept an eye on us just as I kept an eye on that little bird. Though I walked away from the window and that bird to tend to this writing and then dinner, God never walks away from watching me. God doesn’t walk away from watching -and loving- any of us. Just as that little bird gave me reason to smile, I’m going to do my best to give God reason to do the same. Will you join me?

Generous God, our lives are an amazing gift. Give me the courage to embrace every opportunity to make the most of my shelter here until I occupy my perfect home with you.

©2020 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Miracle Enough…

Jesus performed the first of his signs at Cana in Galilee…
From John 2:11

While in Israel, our archaeologist-guide did his best to give us pertinent information regarding sites we visited. Cana was no exception. We drove through modern Cana in the midst of a traffic jam. Heavy rainfall had closed some roads causing this dilemma. As usual, our guide Yossi made the most of the situation. As the bus crawled along, Yossi spoke…

Yossi shared that there are three possibilities regarding the location of Jesus’ first miracle. Though two beautiful churches claim to rest on the site where Jesus changed water into wine at his friends’ wedding, modern scholars prefer another village which lies in ruins today. It is located slightly farther from Nazareth than today’s Cana. Another miracle attributed to the area is the cure of a Roman official’s son. The man turned to Jesus because his son lay dying with no hope of a cure. The man’s faith touched Jesus who sent him home with the promise that his son would recover.

I found myself unconcerned with the actual settings of these events. It was enough for me to walk in places where Jesus likely walked. Whether or not he performed miracles on the premises was insignificant. It is miracle enough for me to know that Jesus lived among us long enough to reveal God’s essence to us. Jesus did this with enough detail to allow me and many others over the centuries to get the idea.

If we take nothing more from Jesus’ life than his insistence that we are cherished by a benevolent and merciful God and that we should love one another as we love ourselves, we have taken enough. It is up to us to live accordingly.

Generous God, help me to celebrate your presence with those who see you and help me to reveal your presence to those who haven’t yet discovered you.

©2020 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Who Am I Anyway?

While clearing my desk, I found a neatly clipped stack of papers which I’d ignored for weeks. I shuddered as I acknowledged each reminder to schedule an annual doctor’s appointment or procedure. Though I usually take care of these visits every October, I postponed this effort until New Year 2020 made its appearance because I’d been extremely busy. I promised myself that I’d schedule these appointments in January and complete each visit by the end of February. Still, though I have no known reason for concern, I was reluctant to pick up the phone. Last year’s blood work and numbers guaranteed me a year free of medication. My blood pressure has been consistently healthy and I’ve lost a few pounds. Still, I was anxious as I entered the first number. When a recording instructed me to call back during office hours, I sighed with relief. I admit that I laughed at myself in the midst of all of this. I’m normally the calming force who encourages others along their way. Why couldn’t I do the same for myself that afternoon? I looked at my reflection in the window next to me and wondered who that nervous potential patient was who’d suddenly occupied my body. Where was I?

Today, our Nativity figures and créche rest in storage with the Christmas trees and greenery which adorned the church. The splashes of red flowers and white vestments which joyfully proclaimed Christmas have given way to the green of a new liturgical season. Until Ash Wednesday, we’ll observe Ordinary Time. The math scholars among us will appreciate the reasoning behind this designation. “Ordinary Time” references those weeks between liturgical seasons when we count Sundays in ordinal fashion one after another. As for me, I consider Ordinary Time to be the perfect time to acknowledge our ordinary selves and our ordinary efforts to live our typically ordinary lives as best we can. This time around, however, I’m searching for my ordinary self. You know, the one who managed to escape me as I began scheduling my doctors’ appointments the other day. Where had I gone?

When I turned to the scriptures to prepare for this writing, I was relieved to find that I’m not the only one whose identity has been questioned. Today’s first reading (Isaiah 49:3, 5-6) was authored by an anonymous prophet. He continued in Isaiah’s style to encourage the people to embrace who they were in God’s eyes and to live accordingly. He wrote, “The Lord said to me: You are my servant… I will make you a light to the nations, that my salvation may reach to the ends of the earth.” There was nothing ordinary about God’s hope for this second Isaiah. Indeed, God had the poor man’s work cut out for him. As I read, I became convinced that this prophet must have questioned his own identity often, especially when things went awry. Did he also ask, “Who am I?” in the midst of his troubles?

The second reading (1 Corinthians 1:1-3) indicates that Paul opened this letter by announcing that he was “an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God”. Throughout his writings, Paul insisted that he was who he was as a result of divine intervention in his life. The best part of this was that Paul behaved exceedingly more bravely as a result. Even from his prison cell, he preached until the end. As I read, it occurred to me that Paul was able to do all that he did because he embraced who he was in God’s eyes. This seems easy enough. Still, I thought I knew who I am in God’s eyes, yet I couldn’t find myself the other day…

In John’s gospel (John 1:29-34), John the Baptist insisted that he’d engaged in preaching and baptizing to pave the way for one who would follow him. John made it clear that he wasn’t the one for whom the people waited. Still, John’s work proved extremely important. After watching events unfold around him and listening carefully to God’s voice deep within him, John recognized Jesus for who he was. So it was that John courageously announced, “He is the Son of God.” With that, Jesus embraced his identity and set out to spread the good news. In the process, Jesus identified Mary as both woman and mother, Peter as the Rock, Lazarus and Mary Magdalene as dear friends and every other person along the way as accepted, worthy, forgiven and embraced without condition. If those around Jesus knew nothing else about themselves, they knew that they were loved. If asked who they were, each one could proudly answer, “I am me and I am loved!”

Ordinary Time provides the perfect opportunity to acknowledge our ordinary selves, our ordinary efforts and our ordinary lives as God does. Though I didn’t do this very well as I procrastinated in making those doctors’ appointments, I eventually found “me” as I rose to the challenge and scheduled each one. Finally, I realized that God knew where I was all along and that God will take care. Finally, I discovered, “I am me and I am loved!” The truth is so are you!

©2020 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

God’s Very Real Love

O my dove in the clefts of the rock, in the
secret recesses of the cliff, let me see you,
let me hear your voice,
for your voice is sweet and lovely.

Song of Songs 2:14

While preparing for a Christmas gathering, I desperately tried to find places for items displaced by our Christmas decorations. Though my closet doesn’t have much room to spare, I looked for a useful nook. In the process, I bumped into a plastic container filled with a lifetime of mementos. Busy as I was, I allowed myself a very long minute to examine these treasures. I came across programs from the weddings of several loved ones. I couldn’t help smiling as I read the names of the maids of honor, best men and others involved. One of the programs included scripture readings which were shared that day. Among them, I found the passage from the Song of Songs cited above.

This particular passage is a favorite. Our friend Scott read these words at our wedding. My husband and I selected this reading because we were taken in by the painful longing this lover expressed for his beloved. What we did not fully appreciate is that the lover who spoke so passionately is the God of Israel who desperately sought to be reunited with the Jewish People. This Divine longing persisted for centuries and came to fruition in the gift of Jesus. On the first Christmas, God expressed this unrequited love face-to-face and heart-to-heart in the most tangible way possible. God expressed this love in the gentle cooing of the newborn baby who would spend his life convincing us all that God’s love for us is very, very real.

Loving God, thank you for your persistence. Today, busy as I am, I’ll slow down to bask in your loving gaze!

©2019 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Thank You, Jesus!

Once Jesus… asked them, “Who do the crowds say that I am?”…
Then he said to them, “Who do you say that I am?”

From Luke 9:18-20

Like you, I’ve worn many hats throughout my life: Child, sibling, cousin, student, friend, adversary, teen, aunt, teacher, spouse, in-law, parent, colleague, author, grandma, administrator, volunteer, retiree, encourage-er, listener, annoying one. The list goes on and on. Some who know me might encourage me to add a few more complimentary titles. Others might encourage me to add a role or an adjective of which I’m not particularly proud. I’m painfully honest when I also say that, in spite of this list, I sometimes don’t know who I am at all.

It’s during this life’s most confusing and difficult times that I jump at the chance to answer the question Jesus posed to his followers so long ago: “Who do you say that I am?” This answer has made all of the difference in the world to me. You see, Jesus is the one who convinced me of God’s love for me. It is Jesus who taught me to love my enemies as well as my friends. Jesus is the one who told story after story to convince me that I can never do anything which God will not forgive. Jesus is the one who assured me that, miserable as I am, he would lay down his life for me alone. It is through the life and lessons of Jesus that I’ve learned to live as best I can, not in spite of, but because of who I am.

It is Jesus who answers whenever I ask, “Who am I?” It is Jesus who assures me, “You are God’s beloved!”

Generous God, you have gifted us with Jesus -his words, his works, his life and his love. Thank you!

©2019 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved