The Promise of Hope

You love me, O God, in your goodness…
From Psalm 51:3

I’m grateful for the signs of spring which renew my hope with every new sprout-sighting. My husband and I have been fortunate enough to be able to walk outdoors every day since our stay-at-home life has been in place. We who venture out have become expert at social distancing and at appreciating the fresh air and the natural beauty around us, rain or shine! The best part of this is that the expanse of the outdoors, from the sky above to the earth beneath our feet, puts our current situation in perspective.

You see, I’ve learned something from my walk through Lent and Easter 2020 and our battle with COVID-19. I’ve also learned something from Spring 2020. Each of these experiences promises life after winter, life after the trauma which besets us just now and life after death. Regardless of my success or failure to use the moment at hand optimally, another opportunity awaits me in the moment after that. This doesn’t mean that I’ll intentionally waste even a second of the time I’m given. What it does mean is that, when I make a mistake, I’ll be as patient with myself as God is.

Merciful God, help me to do my best. When I don’t, help me to acknowledge this setback honestly, to assess my regret sincerely, to seek your guidance once again and then to move on.

©2020 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Still Dancing To Christmas?

The hectic pace of Advent 2019 has increased exponentially. Though I mused at length during the past few weeks regarding finding a bit of Christmas in every day and dancing our way through Advent, I’m not sure that we’ve all had much opportunity to do so. Indeed, grocery lists, gift lists, to-do lists and the other responsibilities which simply don’t fit on lists have too often denied us the few leisurely moments we’ve hoped for each day. It’s difficult to free our hearts to dance the dance of joy when we’re distracted by the numerous tasks at hand. As I’ve checked off the items on my own lists, I’ve looked heavenward often. “Lord, what was I thinking when I suggested that these Advent days are anything like Christmas? What was I thinking when I invited everyone to dance through this crazy time with me?” I imagine God smiling knowingly in response…

As I write, I realize that I’m in good company as I question all of this. In today’s gospel (Matthew 11:2-11), Matthew chronicles John the Baptist’s stay in prison. Staring at the ceiling above, poor John wondered about the reports circulating among the prisoners. Each time the guards walked away, hushed voices recounted the works of Jesus. John had spent his entire adult life proclaiming the coming of the Messiah and his only reward to date was confinement in a cell. Finally, John raised his head and signaled a fellow inmate. He had to get a message to Jesus and this man had opportunity to do this. The man repeated John’s question because John insisted that the message be delivered precisely: “Are you the one who is to come, or should we look for another?” John’s eyes followed his messenger as he left for as long as he could see him. “I must know…” he whispered.

John the Baptist did all he did to prepare the world for the Messiah in spite of his uncertainty. Jesus rewarded John with an unexpected gift of encouragement when he replied to John’s question. Jesus told the man, “Go back and tell John what you hear and see: The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is proclaimed to the poor.” When John heard this response from his dear cousin, his heart danced. John realized his work in this world was complete. As a result, he was prepared for whatever else might come his way. It is no wonder that Jesus observed, “Amen I say to you, among those born of women there has been none greater than John the Baptist…”

As I consider all that my dear husband and I have accomplished this Advent, I find myself inspired as well. Mike has resisted numerous opportunities to enjoy some much needed rest to join me in tending to our family Christmas preparations as well as those of our parish family. In spite of his fatigue, Mike actually found joy in these favors fulfilled. When he finally relaxed in his recliner, these tasks accomplished encouraged him to consider what he’ll do next. I’ve found inspiration in the good deacon’s service and that of so many others. After all, setting ourselves aside to care for others is the point of the Advent Season.

This coming week, when you find yourself discouraged along with the rest of us because you cannot seem to get everything done, remember John the Baptist lying in that prison cell wondering if his preaching and teaching accomplished anything. Remember, as well, what Jesus said about the blind seeing, the lame walking, the deaf hearing and the dead being raised. What John did made all of the difference in the world to those who met him because John opened their hearts to Jesus. When you and I set aside our own needs to do our best for those around us, we do the same. The people we’ve been given to love in our homes and in this church, on cold street corners and in crowded malls, at work and at school, nearby and far away adjust their responses to Jesus’ message in tandem with our responses to them. Our patience, generosity and good will speak as eloquently of the Messiah’s coming as did the preaching of John the Baptist himself. Perhaps offering glimpses of God’s love to those around us is all the reason we need to dance after all. Though our aching feet and backs and heads may fail us, our hearts dance their way one step closer to Christmas with every good deed done!

©2019 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Love Works!

…proclaim the good news there also.
From Mark 1:38

The other day, Grandpa and I played a board-game with our granddaughters. The youngest had been doing well until my game piece landed on the same square as hers. Her guy had to return to start to begin the trek around the board once again. Poor Claire was beside herself. She ran from the table crying that she was tired of being picked on. Now I shouldn’t put this in writing, but I am Claire’s favorite. So it was particularly painful to hear her say that I was picking on her. As I formulated the words to respond, a similar adventure with Claire’s dad came to mind…

When my son was about the same age, he wasn’t at all happy with what I’d asked him to do. In response, he shouted “I hate you!” I never used that word and it broke my heart to hear it from my little boy. Still, I remained calm until Mike’s bedroom door slammed. It was then that the tears flowed. When I went out to the backyard to recover, I saw my neighbor. Ellie had been a great friend to my husband and me and an auxiliary grandma to Mike. Still teary-eyed, I told her what happened. “Did your kids ever say that?” I asked. “Sure they did. They’re kids. And you know what I did? I pulled them close and said, ‘Well, that’s okay because I still love you!’” Ellie noted that this gesture quickly put an end to such talk. With that, I went to my son’s room to remind him that I loved him. I couldn’t help smiling when he said he loved me, too.

My encounter with Claire ended just as happily.

Dear God, love makes sense always and everywhere. Help us to transform our own relationships and this world with love.

©2019 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

God’s Second Chances

Have mercy on me, O God, in your goodness;
in the greatness of your compassion wipe out my offense.

Psalm 51:3

I’m grateful for the signs of spring which renew my hope with every new sprout-sighting. The change of seasons always induces reflection on my part. Usually, this is very good news, except for those times when I reflect upon the negative for a little too long…

I’m often told that I have a selective memory. The worst of my personal history lies deep within me. The best of it glows in a rose-colored aura which attests to my many blessings. Occasionally, something unexpectedly jars a dark recollection from its hiding place. Such memories tempt me to give in to guilt or despair. I’m happy to report that I’ve resisted this temptation more often than not as of late.

You see, I learned something from my walk through Holy Week and Easter. I’ve also learned something from Spring 2019. Both experiences promise life after winter, life after failures and life after death. Regardless of my success or failure to use the moment at hand optimally, another opportunity awaits me in the moment after that. This doesn’t mean that I’ll intentionally waste even a second of the time I’m given. What it does mean is that when I make a mistake I’ll be as patient with myself as God is.

Merciful God, help me to do my best. When I don’t, help me to acknowledge my guilt honestly, to express my sorrow sincerely, to accept your forgiveness fully and then to move on.

©2019 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Our Post-Easter Efforts

Mary Magdalene and the other Mary
went away quickly from the tomb, fearful yet overjoyed,
and ran to announce the news to his disciples.
And behold, Jesus met them on their way…

Matthew 28:8-9

This Monday after Easter, we’re returning to our normal routines. Grandpa and I will babysit for our grandsons, our kids will return to work and the older grandchildren will return to school. Still, I’m taking a moment to consider all that has transpired in recent weeks. Lent was productive, though not always as I’d planned. My Holy Week observances were both sobering and uplifting as I returned to the scene at least mentally. I offered my presence to Jesus with the hope that I would have stayed with him if I had been there two millenniums ago. Today, just as spring offers hints of the beauty to come, I hope to hint at the Promise of Easter in all of my efforts.

When the two Marys went to Jesus’ tomb that first Easter morning, I wonder what they expected to find. I wish I’d been there when they arrived to find that the stone had been rolled away and that Jesus was gone. Did either Mary say, “I knew it! I just knew it! He rose as he said he would!”? Though I can’t be certain of their initial reactions, I do suspect that they responded with great joy when they saw Jesus once again!

As for me, I know what happened and I need to respond accordingly today and always!

Loving God, help me to make my life an ongoing hint at
the amazing things to come for us all.

©2019 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Love Them, No Matter What!

“Let us move on to the neighboring villages
so that I may proclaim the good news of God’s love there also.”

Mark 1:38

While sorting through receipts, I happily discarded the ones which represented good Christmas gift choices. I was especially pleased that our growing granddaughters were pleased with Grandpa’s and my selections for them. As I continued, I recalled the unhappy little boy I’d encountered during one of those successful shopping trips.

The little guy had reached his shopping limit. I realized that his mother’s promise to head to the checkout in five minutes made no impression when he announced, “I hate you!” This mom couldn’t reply because she would have produced more than the single tear which trailed down her cheek. She simply pushed her cart with her son in tow toward the front of the store.

Though I still had things to purchase, I couldn’t let this poor woman leave without helping her. I took my own cart to the checkout line and waited behind her. I made a bit of small talk and then shared that my own son had spoken the same words to me more than three decades earlier. I admitted that I’d responded with tears as well. Fortunately, my wonderful neighbor helped me to deal with the situation. When I asked if her kids had ever said that, my neighbor responded, “Sure they did. They’re kids. And you know what I did? I pulled them close and said, ‘Well, that’s okay because I still love you!’”

I shared that I repeated my neighbor’s words to my own son and that this was the last time my son ever spoke those words to me. After thanking me for this bit of wisdom, the young mom kissed her little boy on the top of his head and headed back to pick up that last item she needed. As for me, I finished my shopping, too.

Loving God, your loving ways make good sense. Thank you for giving us the sense to share them.

©2019 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved