Saying Good-Bye

“My children, I will be with you only a little while longer.”
John 13:33

Though my husband retired from his work as a hospice chaplain, he continued to visit a few of his former patients and the spouses of a few others for several years afterward. The loss of the last of Mike’s hospice friends returned my thoughts to this important work.

Choosing to accept hospice services is difficult at best. After all, this admission acknowledges the reality that ones days are numbered. The good news is that this admission is also an invitation to pull back some of the artillery and to negotiate peace with ones impending journey home. My husband never ceased to be amazed by the calm which settled upon his patients as they approached their last days. Their acceptance of the things to come seemed to free them to enjoy the days they had while tying up loose ends as best they could. When his patients offered their final farewells, Mike rejoiced with them because they had achieved certain peace at last. Though I didn’t accompany Mike on these journeys, I joined my brother, my mom and my sister when they walked the same path. Like Mike, I was amazed by the calm which enveloped them and by the generosity with which they responded to we who were left behind.

That first Holy Week, Jesus knew that his days were numbered as well. Still, Jesus took the time to savor his last meal with his friends. Jesus took the time to reflect and to embrace what lay ahead. While others planned his demise, Jesus’ acceptance freed him to share his final lessons with those he loved.

Dear God, while I walk with Jesus this week, fill me with the peace and courage which allowed Jesus to love us even as he endured his passion.

©2019 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

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A Glimpse Ahead

“…the hour is coming
and is now here when the dead will hear
the voice of…God.”

From John 5:25

This past weekend, we gathered to celebrate our granddaughter’s First Reconciliation. Claire will receive her First Communion in May. This prequel allowed her to take stock of her little heart and to acknowledge that perhaps she isn’t as perfect as Grandma and Grandpa think she is. I admit to being amazed that our youngest granddaughter has reached this milestone. In the midst of this musing, I realized that I’ve become my mom. Now I’m Grandma who shows up with Grandpa in tow for these special occasions. The truth is that I believe my mom was with us as well. It was her passing more than a dozen years ago which convinced me…

My mom had undergone surgery which ended with the discovery of a rare cancer which was irreparably advanced. Her only treatment option was hospice care. While this news devastated us, our mother took it extremely well. “I’ve had a good long life,” she said. “I just hope I can do what I want for as long as I can.” My mom went on to fulfill the doctor’s prognosis to the day. She remained miraculously pain-free and medication-free, except for her insulin, for the duration. She was up and about until three days before she left us.

During those final days, my mom mentioned the beautiful voices. She added that her sisters were waiting for her. The morning of the day she passed, I asked if she was afraid. My mom’s face glowed as she answered, “Oh no, Mary. It’s beautiful over there!” Though I’d read much of what has been written by those who’ve been to heaven and back, it was my mother’s testimony which put it all into perspective. Yes, Mom had made it home. She was also with Claire and the rest of us as we celebrated the other day.

Loving God, thank you for the glimpses of heaven which ease us home to you.

©2019 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Y is for Yearning

My soul yearns and pines for God.
My heart and my soul
cry out for the living God.

From Psalm 84:3

Y is for Yearning. Sometimes, only God will do.

After retiring from his first career as a school principal, my husband worked as a hospice chaplain. This work touched him deeply. Though we consider ourselves to be “God-aware” people, this experience brought new depth in this regard to both of us. Mike observed often that when a patient seemed to have lost every means of communication he or she somehow managed to acknowledge prayer. Whether by squeezing a hand, blinking an eye, smiling ever so slightly or whispering an “amen”, each one became present when it was time to pray. Even some patients who endured comas seemed to breathe more calmly when those around them prayed. When all else was said and done, God seemed to remain present to each one.

Though most of us aren’t in need of hospice care at the moment, we are all in need of God. When no one else can comprehend our suffering, God does. God experiences every bit of it with us. When we cannot mouth a single word and cannot breathe without shedding more tears, God is with us.

In times of suffering when I feel that no one understands my heartbreak, I feel completely alone for only a millisecond. I discover within that instant that God is with me and that, sometimes, only God will do.

Merciful and loving God, thank you for satisfying my yearning for your presence. Thank you for truly being God With Us.

©2019 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

L is for Love

Love the Lord your God
with your whole heart,
with your whole soul,
and with your whole mind….
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 don’t 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’s 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 try.

The toughest part is loving my neighbor as I love myself. I shared weeks ago that I planned to work at being less judgmental throughout New Year 2019. What I may not have been clear about is that much of that judgment is directed at myself. 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 true happiness. The passage from Matthew above isn’t a directive. It’s 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

G is for God

For this is our God,
and we are the people God shepherds,
the flock which God guides.

Psalm 95:7

G is for God… and goodness, grace, generosity, gentleness, gift, gladness, glory, gospel, grandeur, gratitude, growth, gumption and a gaggle of other descriptors which apply to the God I have come to know and to love.

Regardless of the name you prefer or the context in which you worship, God is all of these things and more for you, for me and for every soul blessed with the gift of life. Whether we were raised down the street from our church as I was or were never exposed to anything remotely similar, God is for us.

For me, the evidence lies deep within. I’ve been aware of God’s presence in my life for as long as I can remember. If you’re searching for more concrete evidence, consider this. Numerous books have been published and countless other references have been cited in the distant and recent past regarding encounters with life after this life. Many have passed through death’s threshold and returned to share their experiences. Whether a believer, an agnostic or an atheist beforehand, these travelers to the Other Side speak of the unconditional love, peace and acceptance which greeted them. Most conclude with great certainty that they have met God.

Though most of us will never return from this journey, we are gifted with God’s loving presence in our lives today. For me, the implications are twofold. First, I must cultivate my relationship with God as this is the source of the greatest joy I know this life. Second, I must share the benefits of this relationship by cultivating my relationships with those God has given me to love. After all, the best gifts are those which we share.

Generous and Gracious God, thank you for you!

©2019 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Better Things Lie Ahead

I will not leave you orphaned.
John 14:18

Almost every time we gather, my family and I share memories of our loved ones passed. The animation in our voices betrays our common conviction that “our people” are alive and well in places unknown to us. I find great comfort in this shared certainty. There was a time when I had difficulty expressing my sentiments to those who mourned. This began when my uncle lay on his deathbed. My dad softened the blow of this impending loss by sharing that Uncle Gee would be well in heaven. His polio-ravaged body would be straight and tall and he would be very happy. Daddy’s words served me well over the next few years when both of my grandpas and my dad himself passed away.

A lifetime of losses and an insatiable interest in life after this life have convinced me that my dad was correct in his assertion regarding my uncle’s future. As a result, I sometimes struggled regarding what to say to those who aren’t as certain as I am regarding the things to come.

Whenever I receive news of someone’s passing, the first thing I do is congratulate heaven’s newest arrival. Afterward, I ask this person to watch over those who mourn him or her. In the process, I’ve come to realize that feeling the sting of loss is no commentary on a mourner’s faith in the things to come. Loss hurts regardless. What I say isn’t important. Being there is.

Loving God, bless those who mourn today and keep us all mindful of the things to come.

©2019 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved