Delivered From Our Fears

I sought God and God answered me
and delivered me from all my fears.

Psalm 34:5

Loss is tough. For several weeks now, all of us have experienced the loss of our ability to come and go as we please. We choose to cooperate in all of this out of concern for our fellow humans, our loved ones and our own well-being. Still, this loss stings more than we’d like. Sadly, all of the losses which accompany simply being human remain with us as well.

Relationships have been cut short by misunderstandings or by being separated. Loved ones have been lost to illnesses that were already in place and to COVID-19. For many, familiar workplaces and parks and neighborhoods are beyond reach. It’s no wonder that so many of us suffer with feelings of abandonment, loneliness and hopelessness. We wonder if we will ever fill the emptiness around us and within us.

When I begin to sense that emptiness, I do what comes most naturally. I turn my eyes upward. However, before I can form the words to complain to God above, God reminds me of the goodness around me: The smile of a knowing friend; the song of a mother who will love her child forever; an artist’s rendition of sinful son embraced by his dad’s all-loving arms; the encouragement of a fellow writer; the faces of parents and grandparents, spouses and significant others, sisters, brother, sons, daughters and friends who stick with us in the best and worst of times. Add to this today’s news which is filled with images of healthcare and other essential workers who put their lives at risk every day for you and me.

You know, in spite of the clouds that threaten outside my window as I write, I’m sunny as can be inside. Indeed, God has delivered from all of my fears through the goodness of the extraordinary people who grace my life.

Loving God, thank you for being with us in everyone and everything around us!

©2020 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Always Loved…

Jesus said, “Peace be with you! Why are you disturbed?”
From Luke 24:16-17

Twelve sturdy blossoms beckon me. While dodging other masked and gloved shoppers, my dear husband couldn’t resist the single bouquet of yellow tulips which seemed to be calling his name. When he arrived home, he placed them in a vase. He checked their water every day. Though he’d purchased them eight days before Easter, the flowers were as beautiful as ever on Easter morning. “You’re strong and amazing,” I observed, fully expecting a satisfied nod in return. Though the blossoms stood motionless, I hoped they somehow realized my gratitude for their beautiful and enduring presence.

Though my reflections regarding our trips to Israel are coming to a close, the impact of these wonderful experiences remain with me. Just as my husband’s care preserved his precious flowers for more than a week, God has nurtured me though my experiences in Israel and through every moment with which I’m blessed. God has also nurtured me through these difficult days. The truth is that God nurtures us all through everything!

You and I are much like my husband’s tulips in God’s eyes. Though they will likely last only another day, their remarkable stamina will remain with me. Their presence these days after Easter is a lingering reminder of God’s presence in all of our my lives. Just as my husband singled out that bouquet to bring a bit of Easter joy into our house, God singles out you and me to enhance life on this earth, especially the lives of those God has given us to love and especially during times such as these…

Dear God, thank you for the many surprising ways you remind us that we are loved, even in the midst of this pandemic!

©2020 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Home Again!

When he was still a long way off,
his father caught sight of him,
and was filled with compassion.
He ran to his son, embraced him and kissed him.

Luke 15:20

Every morning while we toured Israel, I checked our itinerary before we set out for the day. This helped me to retrieve what I knew about each site. In addition to historical and geographical tidbits regarding these places, events related to Jesus of Nazareth came to mind. As a result, I arrived at each destination with a heart open to the gifts of the new day.

I clearly recall the day we were headed toward the Mount of the Beatitudes, Capernaum, the Sea of Galilee and Magdala. A sense of homecoming quickly enveloped me as I considered scripture passages related to these places. The events I recalled made me feel as though I was returning to revive ancient memories. Oddly, I felt expectantly anxious to get to the heart of what had occurred at each one.

Though I’ll supply details later, today, it is enough to say that I was never disappointed. I may not have stood on the precise patch of ground where Jesus spoke the beatitudes or multiplied loaves and fishes. I may not have stepped in Mary Magdalene’s footprints. I may not have sailed Jesus’ course on the Sea of Galilee. Still, I felt that I walked where I was meant to walk in order to rekindle important relationships from long ago. I wouldn’t have felt more at home if I had been the prodigal son whose father kissed him and embraced him to welcome him home after a far too long absence.

Loving God, thank you for being present to me and for welcoming me into every moment.
With you, the time is always right.

©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

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

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