Always In Good Company

Give thanks to God, for God is good
and God’s mercy endures forever.

Psalm 136:1

I was a little “off” when I woke the other day. I’d enjoyed a string of busy and happily peaceful days. Still, I found myself immersed in sadness. For unknown reasons, my first thoughts that morning were steeped in relatively ancient history. I asked myself, “Why did I wake up with that on my mind?” Though I did my best to focus on happier things, nothing seemed to help. So it was that after breakfast, I bid my dear husband farewell and headed out for a walk.

As soon as I reached the front of our house, I looked back at the ever-present greenery and the colorful annuals Mike had planted this year. They’re prettier than ever and, for a few minutes, they took my mind off of those pesky old memories. As I walked further, I couldn’t miss the flowers which grace so many of our neighbors’ homes. “Thank you, Dear God, for these perfectly placed distractions!!” I prayed.

As I walked on, an uncommonly cool breeze nudged me along the way. “I love the wind, Dear God, because it reminds me that you’re with me.” As I continued on, those bothersome worries faded in the shadow of the beauty around me. Green trees seemed greener than ever. Lush lawns seemed even more beautiful. Every blossom I passed seemed to be in its prime. As I basked in all of this, that breeze continued to nudge me along the way. Finally, I realized that God was with me. Finally, I remembered that God is always with me. Finally, I knew that all would be well. Should those memories emerge once again, God will handle them with me.

Dear God, thank you for your patience, your company and your love.

©2019 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

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Shepherded With Love

The Lord is my shepherd
and there is nothing I shall want.

Psalm 23:1

Our phone had rung for the same reason far too often. On this occasion, a gentleman whom we saw at church just a few days earlier had unexpectedly passed away. When I spoke with the man’s wife, my heart ached for her. Her life had changed with a single passing breath. Still, her concern was for her husband. He’d suffered a good deal as of late and she felt he had a right for that suffering to stop.

Though I knew this couple and had grown to love them through our encounters at church, I had no idea of just how loved they are by their family and numerous friends. I was deeply touched by the comments of those who came to mourn and to reminisce at this dear man’s services. The eulogies offered in my friend’s honor revealed so much more of the character and love which lay beneath the surface of the man whom I’d respected so. Because my friend’s wife is of the same ilk, I understood how she was able to send off her husband to enjoy the eternity he so much deserved.

It is at times such as these that Psalm 23 comes to mind. This new widow seemed to realize that she wasn’t alone in any of this. Beside her loving children and her many friends, she was accompanied by God. So it was that there truly was nothing more for her to want.

It seems to me that God knows our losses more intimately than we know them ourselves. Good Shepherd that God is, God remains with us through them all. Good Shepherd that God is, God will see to it that we and our loved ones will indeed be together once again.

Loving God, please touch all of those who mourn today with your presence and your peace.

©2019 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Pray… God Is Listening!

I’ve shared this often, I know… Throughout his time among us, Jesus offered countless revealing glimpses of our generously loving God. As amazing as each of these renderings is, my favorite is Jesus’ portrayal in the Parable of the Prodigal Son. The image of that ever-patient and forgiving father who opened his arms to his terribly wayward child is something I’ve held dear all of my life. It is this image of God as my loving parent which encourages me to open my heart to God without reservation or fear. It is this image which encourages me to seek true intimacy in every utterance I send God’s way. I admit that this is a lifelong process which will likely continue well into my venture into the hereafter!

If you’ve been blessed with a close relationship, you understand the implications of intimacy. When we open our hearts to someone special, we hide nothing from him or her. We don’t allow pretenses or formalities or social norms to get in the way of the reality of who we are. When we share ourselves at this level, we put every flaw and every virtue in full view. When God is our partner in such a relationship, even the things we don’t know about ourselves are known to God. Far too frequently, I face the reality that I’m not perfect. When this occurs, I remind myself that God has been well aware of my glaring flaws all along. I know that, in spite of the pettiness or grandeur of my imperfections, God looks upon me with persistent and consistent love. Because God loves me and all of us so completely, I find the courage to approach God with the confidence Abraham exhibited in today’s passage from Genesis (18:20-32).

Did you notice that each time Abraham spoke he found God to be both approachable and compassionate? The author of Genesis carefully portrayed this encounter as a conversation during which God and Abraham walked side-by-side. In spite of being very much aware that he was in God’s presence, Abraham bargained with his Maker. He pleaded for the lives of the innocent inhabitants of Sodom and Gomorrah. God’s apparent anger was in response to the outcries of many righteous people regarding the evil that festered in the two cities. Still, God listened to Abraham. Initially, Abraham asked that the cities be spared if there were just fifty innocent inhabitants. Then, Abraham begged God to preserve forty-five, forty, thirty, twenty or even ten innocent lives. Each time, God responded sympathetically. The chapter which follows tells us that God answered Abraham’s plea as the lives of the innocents in those otherwise wretched cities were spared. At the same time, we must remember that God also knew the hearts of the evildoers in Sodom and Gomorrah better than they knew themselves. God knew the reasons they did what they did and God loved them as well. I write this with great confidence because Jesus assured us that God’s mercy is never lost on anyone!

In today’s gospel (Luke 11:1-13), Luke shares another occasion on which Jesus revealed to his disciples the God with whom Abraham was so familiar. Jesus had just finished praying himself when his followers asked him to teach them to pray. Jesus responded with this advice: “When you pray, say: Father, hallowed be your name, your kingdom come. Give us each day our daily bread and forgive us our sins, for we ourselves forgive everyone in debt to us, and do not subject us to the final test.” Afterward, Jesus went on to make this instruction regarding prayer perfectly clear. In the event that the disciples had forgotten the persistence of Abraham and God’s generous response to him, Jesus reminded them in no uncertain terms. Jesus spoke of a man who responded to his neighbor’s need in the middle of the night, not so much out of love as out of weariness at the neighbor’s persistence. Jesus added, “And I tell you, ask and you will receive; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you.” Jesus went on to point out the disciples’ concern for their own children: “What father among you would hand his son a snake when he asks for a fish? Or hand him a scorpion when he asks for an egg? If you then, who are wicked, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him?” I assure you that the God of Abraham continues to listen and to provide us all that we need as we journey through this life!

As I wrote today, it occurred to me that I’ve found a second image of God which I must treasure at least as much as that of the father who embraced his prodigal son. In today’s passage from Genesis, the author illustrated the possibilities when we open ourselves to God’s embrace just as that regretful son did. In this account, God and Abraham walk side-by-side. There is no question that Abraham is conversing with God as he would with a dear friend. Apparently, Abraham found this to be perfectly natural. It seems to me that God’s close proximity to Abraham was no accident. God’s close proximity to you and me is no accident either. Though that prodigal son was separated from his father for a while, we are never separated from God. God walks side-by-side with each one of us every step of the way. In our goodness and in our wrong-doing, God is with us. In our joy and in our sorrow, God is with us. So it is that we must take Jesus’ lesson regarding prayer to heart. We must ask and seek and knock because, even today, the God of Abraham listens and responds… Always!

©2019 Mary Penich-All Rights Reserved

God… Our Constant Companion

God is love, and whoever remains in love
remains in God and God in him.

1 John 4:16

While trimming the rose bushes alongside our house, I heard firecrackers exploding in the distance. I wondered if one of the neighborhood kids had discovered a stash which he or she had forgotten to ignite on July 4th. As I continued the task at hand, my thoughts turned to the Independence Day fireworks.

We live near enough to an amusement park to enjoy their annual fireworks display. When our neighborhood trees were new, we gathered with our lawn chairs in the center of our cul-de-sac to watch the always-breath-taking display. As our trees have grown, our line of vision has changed. This year, my husband and I carried our chairs two blocks so we could watch from the local high school parking lot. The amusement park has also relocated its “launch pad.” Though our view of each colorful burst was unobstructed, the fireworks seemed especially far away to me. If only I could have been a little closer…

This minor disappointment gave me reason to consider how often I’ve wished I’d been a little closer. When life’s struggles threaten, I sometimes feel alone as I face them. It’s only after further contemplation and following my propensity to look upward for assistance that I realize that I’m never alone in anything. Regardless of the joy or sorrow I encounter along the way, God’s love is the one constant which will never ever change. God’s love accompanies me through everything! God’s love accompanies us all through everything!

God of Love, many of your children here and around the world struggle today. Touch them with tangible reminders of your love. Let them know that you are nearby.

©2019 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Shepherds All

The Lord is my shepherd; there is nothing I shall want.
Psalm 23:1

An unexpected conversation with an unexpected friend left my heart heavy with compassion for this suffering person. A loved one is critically ill and the only consolation I could offer was my promise to pray for him. As I walked away, I began my prayer. “Dear God, give them strength,” I begged. Though my own sons, their wives and our grandchildren are happy and well these days, I’ve experienced enough health scares in their regard for me to understand this person’s pain too well. So it was that I reached for the image of our loving God which consoles me most when I am in asking mode: The Good Shepherd.

I prayed on… “Where would I be today, Lord, if I had not been in your care through the trauma of my own life? Sometimes, you came out of nowhere to assure me of your presence. You came in the kindness of your servant-shepherds who kept hope alive for me. Please, do the same for my friend and that family today.”

Truly, no one would be where he or she is today if not for God’s relentless love and care. Sometimes, this comes in our own awareness of God’s presence. Sometimes, that care comes in the efforts of the shepherds God has asked to care for us. Each instance of nurturing feeds our hope and empowers us to carry on. What an awesome responsibility and privilege it is for us to do the same for one another!

Good Shepherd, be with us as we share your nurturing ways through our loving care for one another .

©2019 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Z… Zenith!

God’s holy mountain, the fairest of heights,
is the joy of all the earth.

Psalm 48:3ab

Z is for Zenith. Zenith… the high point, the point directly overhead, the peak, the pinnacle, the summit. As the psalmist wrote, the fairest of heights. When good things happen to us, we say that our spirits are high or that we’re uplifted. Though I don’t think there actually is a direction toward heaven, I turn my eyes upward to pray. I reference my loved ones “up there” and I visualize God and the heavenly cohort looking down from above upon us.

God’s “above-ness” doesn’t imply in any way that God is unwilling to dirty those Divine Hands with the troubles of this world. Oddly, God’s position “above” never stops me from pulling God down into the worst of messes. More importantly, this position “above” never stops God from responding. Our God who loves us from the fairest of heights also loves us from the deepest of trenches and I am most grateful!

Today, I thank you for making your way through this alphabet of reflections with me. Though I fretted a bit about actually taking us from A to Z, God’s inspiration has been abundant. The good people around me, the wonders of creation and the scriptures never ceased to inspire as well. Thank you!

I’m also happy to share that this alphabetical diversion did give me the time to work on my book!

Loving God, thank you for your presence throughout this ABC side-trip. Thank you, too, for using this space to spread the good news of just how much you care for each one of us!

©2019 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved