Always Safe and Always Loved

You shall not fear the terror of the night
nor the arrow that flies by day.

Psalm 91:5

For decades, my family gathered to continue our holiday festivities with a New Year’s Day celebration. For generations before I arrived, my dad’s Canadian family preserved this tradition which includes a family blessing. Every New Year’s Day, we gathered before our eldest family member to request his or her intercession. For the past several years, it has been my sister Rita who has asked God’s gifts of happiness, health and prosperity for each one of us during the coming year.

For as long as I can remember, I experienced a reassuring sense of peace as we knelt together for this annual prayer. Afterward, I felt oddly protected regardless of what life had in store for the next three hundred and sixty-four days. This year, because we won’t be gathering, I’ll take a mental trip back to those New Year’s Days Past. I hope to recapture that sense of family and that sense of peace I’ve felt among generations of loved ones over the years.

During my New Year’s Day musing, I’ll enjoy the memories and then move on to prayer… I’ll give thanks for the decades-long opportunity we had to help our own sons feel safe and loved. I’ll give thanks for the texts and FaceTime calls that remind all concerned that we are loved. In the process, I’ll remind myself and those dearest to me that God remains nearby, around us and within us, keeping us safe and loving us all the while.

Caring God, as we approach New Year 2021, please be as tangible as possible with your assurances that you truly are always nearby, around us and within us, that you keep us safe and that you love us always, no matter what!

©2020 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

A Grateful Child

God is light; in God there is no darkness.
From 1 John 1:5

I’m thinking about my dad. Yesterday was his birthday. He would have been 101 if he was with us to add another year to his earthly life. As I gaze at his photo on my desk, I recall the birthdays we celebrated together. My dad was aware of his impending passing for a year. Knowing what I know now about being a spouse and a parent, I can’t imagine how he was able to bear his last birthday. I find consolation in my faith regarding our lives after this life. Whatever my dad endured during his last months has since grown into an amazing existence which is worth every bit of the effort he expended here.

In spite of his new digs, my dad remains with me in many ways. He walked me through the difficult losses of my uncle and grandfather who lived with us. Daddy gave me reason to smile when he assured me that polio-stricken Uncle Gee would certainly walk straight and tall in heaven. Later, Daddy assured me that Grandpa wouldn’t need his cane to get around in heaven. My dad’s conviction in this regard eased me through his own death a few years later. Daddy also wisely told me that I was harder on myself than anyone else would ever be and that I was a very good girl. More importantly, my dad repeated these assertions in his demeanor toward me.

In honor of my dad’s birthday, I’m renewing my commitment to take his lessons to heart. Especially during this pandemic, it’s important for me to deal with the disappointments and losses of this life with my dad’s hope. While I do my best to make the most of this life, I’ll also do my best to remember that better things await us all. After all, God hasn’t done any more for my dad than God will do for each one of us when the time comes.

Generous God, thank you for my dad who did a great job of revealing your ongoing love and care to me.

©2020 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Gifted with God’s Company

When I started to think about this reflection, my dear husband was making one of his bi-weekly trips to the grocery store. Though I should have been writing, I fretted over our last undelivered online gift purchase and our as yet undelivered Christmas cards. I found little consolation in acknowledging that, by the time this reflection would be published, that gift and our Christmas cards would have arrived. By the time I sat at my keyboard to put my thoughts into words, welcoming New Year 2021 demanded my attention. The best and worst of 2020 have added much to our collective history. I redirected my thoughts to the last days of the year with the hope that we’ll all embrace what lies ahead with a measure of peace. Though I’d like to think that we all found joy and hope and love in the midst of our minimal Christmas festivities, I know this may not have been the case for many of us. So it is that I turn to the peace found in God’s company to sustain me.

I think inner peace is key to embracing this life and all that it holds for us. Be it next year, next month, tomorrow or the moment at hand, it’s far easier to face what lies ahead when we’re in good company. As I consider the plight of the Holy Family whom we celebrate today, I think that their sense of God’s presence is the fuel which empowered them to carry on. Dealing with Mary’s unexpected pregnancy was challenge enough. Managing Jesus’ birth far from home where an overly-crowded city had no semblance of privacy to offer added to Mary’s and Joseph’s complicated circumstances. Not long afterward, they fulfilled Jewish Law by walking six miles from Nazareth to the temple in Jerusalem to consecrate their firstborn son to God. In today’s gospel (Luke 2:22-40), Luke tells us that the holy man Simeon was in the temple when Joseph and Mary arrived. Simeon had spent his life waiting for the Messiah and he begged God not to take him until he’d seen the promised one. When Jesus’ parents carried him in, Simeon immediately sensed that he was in the company of the one for whom he waited. He embraced Jesus with un-containable gratitude and exclaimed, “Now, you may let your servant go… for my eyes have seen…” Simeon told Mary that Jesus would bring both wonder and sorrow into her life and that he would bring salvation to the people.

Simeon’s welcome evidenced the peace God’s presence had brought into his life. Still, trustful as they were in God’s plans for them, Mary and Joseph didn’t expect the reception Simeon offered them. What a frightening sense of responsibility they must have felt! Even in his infancy, others recognized Jesus as the one who would literally change their world. How would they raise a child destined to do this? Without revealing Mary’s and Joseph’s intentions, Luke closes this passage by sharing that “…they returned to Galilee, to their own town of Nazareth. The child grew and became strong, filled with wisdom; and the favor of God was upon him.” It occurs to me that Luke’s observations fail to acknowledge the difficulties Mary and Joseph faced when they left the temple that day. Were there whispers in the community regarding the timing of Jesus’ birth? Did Mary question her response to the angel nine months earlier? Did fear tug at Joseph’s heart? Yet, though another couple may have run for the hills, Mary and Joseph stayed the course. Nothing mattered to them more than caring for Jesus. In spite of their fear, Mary and Joseph loved Jesus and they knew that God was with them. So it was that they proceeded accordingly.

If you love someone, you understand how Mary and Joseph were able to allow Jesus to turn their lives upside-down. You’ve encountered God within yourself and within the ones you love and so it is that your affection compels you to stay the course. Parents work long hours to provide for their children and caregivers gently bathe their ailing loved ones. Grandparents lift up a little grandchild and stack blocks with that toddler in spite of their aching backs. We dig into our pockets for our last ten-dollar bill and drop it into a bell-ringer’s bucket. Yes, we work at caring for those we’ve been given to love because God has worked at caring for us. On this Feast of the Holy Family, we celebrate the persistence of Mary and Joseph in raising Jesus and Jesus’ persistence in convincing us that God loves us all no matter what.

Today and always, we do our best to retrace the footsteps of the Holy Family of Jesus, Mary and Joseph who illustrated the power of God’s presence in our lives. Every step they took guides us to the wonder we can accomplish when we acknowledge that God is also with us in everything. Though our only certainty is the unexpected, God invites us to use every opportunity which lies ahead to respond generously to those we’ve been given to love. This week, when you begin to organize your 2021 Calendar, remember that the three hundred sixty-five days ahead promise possibilities and challenges which we’ll never face alone. God’s company among us and within us will sustain us just as it sustained Mary and Joseph and their amazing son.

©2020 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

God’s Always Listening

Jesus went up to the mountain and
he spent the night in prayer with God.

Luke 6:12

As my husband and I walked along a nearby trail, Mike interrupted the quiet by yelling, “Look at that deer!” Not ten feet away, an amazingly agile buck leapt over fallen trees and browning shrubs. He stopped just a second to look back at us and then continued on his way. When poor Mike looked back at me, he couldn’t figure out why I was responding to this amazing sight with tears. I had to explain that these were tears of joy because that deer was truly an answer to my prayer…

When Mike and I set out for our walk that day, we talked about our kids and grandkids, how we’re all surviving this pandemic and what was next on our stay-at-home agenda. Afterward, we each settled into our own quiet. I admit to talking God’s ear off that morning. I’d been clumsily voicing a concern which is near and dear to me. Just before we encountered that deer, I’d told our patient God that I know that I’m always heard, but that, this time, I needed a little sign. “I haven’t seen a deer in a while,” I dared to say. It was seconds afterward that the buck ran past Mike and me.

When I share my thoughts and worries with God, I know God understands. Though I’ve never heard a word spoken from God’s lips, I have received God’s response in the quiet of the moment, in an unexpected remark from someone nearby or in a suddenly remembered line from a favorite book or hymn. Sometimes, God speaks in the autumn breeze and sometimes God speaks through a galloping buck. Trust me. When we pray and even when we don’t, God finds a way to reach out to us. It’s up to us to take notice.

Good and generous God, let’s talk every day. When I forget, nudge me into conversation as only you can.

©2020 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Happily Grateful

I give thanks, and recount
all of your wondrous deeds, O God…

From Psalm 26:7-8

The other day, I shared my recollection of an amazing truth which I was fortunate to come across some years ago: “A grateful soul is a happy soul!” This bit of wisdom really does get to the core of things. I bring it up again because my first attempts to begin every prayer by first voicing my gratitude haven’t been particularly successful. I haven’t mastered the art of reading or listening to the daily news, acknowledging our present worries and suffering, resolving to do what I can in my little corner of the world and then leaving the rest in God’s hands. Unfortunately, my response to current events has been to fret, to give in to the doom and gloom which threaten and to moan again and again in God’s direction. When a friend took the time to thank me for these “uplifting messages”, I realized just how little I’d done to uplift myself.

My friend’s thanks in the midst of her own suffering nudged me to try again to practice what I’ve preached. The approach of Thanksgiving Day nudges me further. It’s time to let go of my despair and to open my eyes to the blessings which surround me. Even in the midst of this pandemic, I enjoy the love of my husband, our sons, their amazing wives and our five completely lovable grandchildren. Though this is all that I really need, I am blessed with so much more.

So it is that, today, I’m beginning anew. Today, I’m going to do all I can to discover for myself that a grateful soul really is a happy soul. Will you join me?

Gracious God, thank you for the dear soul who shared these words of wisdom. Help us all to be grateful and happy heralds of your love.

©2020 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Just Talk…

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

Luke 6:12

For several years, my husband and I taught a class for those interested in learning more about our faith. Though we covered a myriad of topics, my favorite was prayer. We began with commonly known prayers and then shared our own preferences. Mike and I agree that we do our best praying when we simply talk to God. Jesus spent his public life convincing us of God’s unconditional love, acceptance, mercy and concern for each of us. When we take these things to heart, we realize just how intimately God wishes to be connected with us. In my case, I share my deepest concerns only with those by whom I feel accepted and with whom I feel comfortable. Honestly, God tops this list of these precious friends.

I find that talking to God is as natural as talking to a good friend. A friend’s responses come in a knowing smile, a pat on the back or a similar story from his or her experience. Sometimes, we simply sit together, knowing that each of us understands the other. The same is true in our conversations with God. Though I’ve never heard a word spoken from God’s lips, I have received God’s response in the quiet of the moment, in an unexpected remark from a fellow human or in a forgotten line from a favorite book. Sometimes, God speaks in the autumn breeze and sometimes God speaks deep within me. Whenever we take the time to talk with God, God finds a way to respond.

Dear God, let’s talk. I know that you always listen. I’ll do my best to listen, too.

©2020 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved