L… Love!

You shall love God…
You shall love your neighbor as yourself.

From Matthew 22:37-38

L is for Love. This is a tough one. I don’t have a bit of trouble loving God. Though I admit to having had words with our patient Creator, this is the result of my certainty of God’s love for me. God invited me into a relationship. When I accepted, I committed myself to being completely honest in our interactions. This is my only choice. After all, if I choose not to share my true feelings, God knows them nonetheless.

Early on, a wise teacher shared that there is something lovable about every one of us and that it is up to us to discover what this is. This observation has helped me a great deal over the years. Though I don’t have a flawless track record, I can honestly say that I don’t hate anyone. Still, though I love my neighbor in theory, putting that love into practice sometimes poses a challenge. The good news here is that I do try. The better news is that joy is the result of these efforts.

The toughest part is loving my neighbor as I love myself. Sometimes, I’m judgmental and much of that judgment is directed toward me. If I fail to love myself enough to allow myself the luxury of being a frail human, how can I love my neighbors enough to allow them to do the same?

Love is a tricky endeavor at best. Still, it’s the best work we can do and the best source of our joy. The words from Matthew cited above aren’t a directive. They’re an invitation to heaven on earth.

Loving God, thank you for creating us in your image, especially when it comes to our ability love.

©2019 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

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Dance to The Spirit’s Music!

May and June have proven to be very busy. My husband and I have or will be involved with an assortment of baptisms, graduations, birthday celebrations and weddings. We celebrated Mother’s Day and we happily look forward to Father’s Day. In the end, an amazing assortment of God’s children will have gathered at each of these events. More importantly, an amazing exhibition of God’s Loving Spirit among us will have unfolded as well. Though taken alone these events may seem to be commonplace, each is extraordinary in some way. A few weeks ago, one particular happening proved extraordinary in the most unexpected and amazing ways…

When a good friend approached his fiftieth birthday, his wife and children decided that this milestone called for a party. Their dear husband and dad had recently completed some extremely demanding training and he’d had a bit of a health-scare. To celebrate his successful outcomes in both areas, our friend’s family organized a gathering in his honor. My dear husband and I had the good fortune to be included. When the day arrived, the weather was uncharacteristically cooperative, so Mike and I spent the entire morning and afternoon working outdoors. Tired as we were afterward, we set aside our work to join our friends for what proved to be a truly enjoyable evening. When we arrived, the entire family warmly welcomed us in. After greeting the other guests, we settled in for lots of pleasant conversation and a delicious meal. It was shortly afterward that another friend pulled me aside and pointed out the karaoke machine. “What?” I asked. “Are we going to use it?” My friend assured me that the machine wouldn’t have a moment’s rest that evening. As the party continued, nothing proved to be more true than that observation…

Before I continue, I assure you that I know what karaoke is, that I love to sing and that I love to dance. I also admit that I’ve never used a karaoke machine, I’m a mediocre singer and I’m a terrible dancer. Before your imaginations enter high gear, I assure you that I drank very little, if anything, which might have inspired my participation that evening. Having said all of that, I also admit to having joined in singing and dancing to almost every song that was played for three hours. The best part of all of this is that the other guests did the same. They assured me that participating with abandon was the best way to unwind, to rejoice and to celebrate the moments at hand; yes, each and every one of those moments at hand. All the while, we joined as one to cheer on the-holder-of-the-microphone, all who served as his or her chorus and all who danced. As for me, a sense of joy and belonging and the absolute freedom to be me filled me up. I determined in short order that this was the best party I’d attended in my entire life.

My revelry culminated in my dear husband’s willingness to lead the singing of Mr. Bojangles. This 1968 release (Jerry Jeff Walker, 1968, Atco Records) has been a favorite since I first heard it. As Mike sang, I couldn’t help dancing as the story of the drifter-turned-dancer unfolded. When Mike sang about the poor man’s dog dying, I shed a few tears and touched my heart. When Mike sang, “Whoa, he jumped so high, clicked his heels…”, I couldn’t help myself. Though I’d never ever dared to do this before, something compelled me to click my heels as well. And so I did. I honestly didn’t realize the amazement of my feat until this roomful of friends gasped and then cheered in delight. Much to my surprise, I did the same twice more before Mike finished that song…

I share this story on Pentecost Sunday with good reason. I admit that, in spite of my productive day, I went to that party with a heavy heart. Old worries had resurfaced and I wondered if I’d be able to set them aside long enough to celebrate our friend’s birthday. As you see, my fear was unfounded. The loving spirit of those gathered that evening not only dispelled the negativity which threatened, but also filled me with absolute joy! You know, Jesus’ friends awaited the first Pentecost with far greater trepidation than my own. They’d arrived at Jerusalem in triumph only to have Jesus arrested and condemned five days later. Most of Jesus’ friends deserted him as he hanged dying on the cross. Those who remained could do nothing to save him. When Jesus rose and appeared among them, he remained for forty days. All the while, hope eased its way back into the disciples’ hearts until Jesus left them once again. Jesus’ parting words included a call to proclaim the good news to every creature and a promise that Jesus would always be with them. Still, when Jesus left, hope escaped his friends once again and the disciples hid themselves away from the people. It was in the midst of wringing their hands and wondering how they might survive this second loss of Jesus that God’s Loving Spirit filled them up. Finally, the disciples understood. Finally, Jesus’ message made sense of this life and the next. With that, the disciples burst out of hiding to proclaim their good news to all who would listen. God’s Loving Spirit propelled them just as it propels us forward again and again.

You know, I’ll never forget that wonderful birthday gathering. The loving spirit which permeated my friend’s home gifted everyone present with a mini-Pentecost of sorts. I think each one of us had a part in sweetening the joy of that evening and in fueling all of our hope in the reality of good things to come. Though life isn’t perfect for any of us, God’s love for us is perfect. And this is all that matters. On this Pentecost and every day after, may each of us sense God’s Loving Spirit within us and find reason to click our heals and to dance once again.

©2019 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

F… Faith!

God remembers forever this covenant
which God made for a thousand generations…

Psalm 105:8

F is for Faith. I discovered very early on that faith is a gift to be treasured. For me, faith is that sense deep within which keeps me ever-mindful of God’s presence in my life. Whether we view God as a distant entity, a constant and nearby companion or as someone quite different from either, it is our faith which tells us that God is.

For me, faith is life-giving and life-saving. Knowing that God is with me and within me sustains me in the best and the worst of times. Though I’m imperfect in numerous ways, God’s love for me urges me on. My faith is further nourished by the beauty of humanity-at-large, the wonders of nature, an amazing book, a heart-warming movie and lyrics or a melody which touches my heart. Everything and every person around me impacts my faith in one way or another.

My response to all of this is to reveal my faith in all that I say and do. My tenderness might bring life to faith that once lay dormant within another soul. My compassion might heal when medicine falls short. My presence might dispel persistent sadness. A card or phone call or visit might offer a reminder that we are deeply loved. Our efforts in this regard might just offer an experience of God which another person would otherwise not have.

My faith in God’s love for me is truly the most powerful catalyst in my life.

Loving God, help us always to remember that YOU ARE WITH US and that YOU LOVE US FOREVER!

©2019 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

E… Everlasting and More!

O God, our God,
how glorious is your name over all the earth!

Psalm 8:1

E is for Everlasting. Of everyone and everything in existence, only God is everlasting. Only God has no beginning and no end. God is, was and always will be. Though we’ve been blessed with immortal souls, it is God who breathed life into each one of us at the lovingly appointed time when our lives began.

The best part of all of this is that God’s every characteristic is also everlasting. God’s love; God’s patience; God’s forgiveness; God’s mercy; God’s creativity; God’s knowledge of you and me; God’s amusement over our silliness; God’s compassion when we’re hurting; God’s ability to look beyond our failures to the goodness deep within us. God’s everything is everlasting. Since God breathed life into us, could it be that a trace of God’s everything lies within us as well?

As I consider some of the troubles of my recent past, I wonder what I’ve been thinking. The truth is that I believe with all of my heart that there is far more than a trace of God’s everything within each one of us. Since this is the case, why have I been so inept at drawing from that everything to find peace?

Yes, E is for Everlasting. E is also for Everything. God’s presence around me and within me is everlasting. God’s love for me is everything. It is in these that peace has been with me all along!

Everlasting God who is everything to us all, thank you for your love, your good company and your peace.

©2019 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

D… Depth!

Jesus said to them,
“Come after me and I will make you fishers of people!”

Mark 1:17

D is for Depth. I’ve often wondered if Jesus appreciated the irony of the situation when he called Simon and Andrew to follow him. They were already experts regarding what lay beneath the surface. After all, they were successful fishermen. Still, Jesus asked them to cast their nets into much deeper waters. Jesus asked them to set their sights upon fellow souls…

It seems to me that I deal best with the challenges before me when I look beneath the surface as well. Many things aren’t as they seem. Just as Simon and Andrew made a science of studying the waters to determine where best to cast their nets, I must study the circumstances and people around me before casting a word or deed in their direction. When a quick response is necessary, I rely on God to guide me just as Jesus guided his followers. However, when I’m blessed with the time to plan ahead, it’s up to me to use that time well.

Depth… Of all of God’s gifts, I think I truly appreciate the understanding of another soul. What a gift it is when someone delves beneath the surface to discover what actually makes me tick! What a gift it is when I care enough to allow another to share the depths of his or her spirit with me!

Dear God, you understand us to depths of our cores. Help us to cast our nets with care as we seek to discover the gifts deep within all of those you have given us to love.

©2019 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

God’s House

Father, keep them in your name
that you have given me, so that
they may be one just as we are one.

From John 17:11

This morning, my friend-since-kindergarten texted. A recent errand had placed my friend in close proximity to our old neighborhood. Because he’s as taken with that neighborhood as I am, my former classmate detoured through our former digs. This trek included a drive past his high school and mine. Of course, all of this ushered me back in time as well…

We grew up on the West Side of Chicago. Beside our church and school buildings, I was awed by the mysteriously awesome synagogue which stood a few blocks north of our parish church. I’d passed this building numerous times. Every time, I looked upon this stone-clad edifice with high regard. My mom had explained that this was a Jewish temple. She said that our doctor probably prayed there. As for me, I was convinced that the Lord God certainly lived in that holy place.

Years later, our neighborhood demographics and this building’s ownership changed. I remember exhaling a sigh of relief when I heard that it would remain God’s house. The synagogue was sold to a Christian church and it would serve as their place of worship. This thrilled me at the time because I knew that God would continue to live there.

You know, just as my friend and I continue to love our old neighborhood, God continues to love all of the places in which God dwells. I’m convinced that God loves that versatile place of worship as I do. Still, I’m even more convinced that God loves the spaces we make for God in our hearts even more!

Gracious God, thank you for residing in our houses of prayer and in our hearts.

©2019 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved