Over There…

“Amen, amen, I say to you, the hour is coming and is now here
when the dead hear the voice of the Son of God.”

John 5:28

A few weeks ago, my cousin passed away surprisingly quickly. Though I was shocked by the news, I was happy for him. He is a very good man who’d suffered much as of late. Finally, he was able to cast aside his troubles to embrace new life.

I believe I make peace with he passing of my loved ones for good reason. From very early on, my parents assured me that those who neared death were destined for absolute happiness and health in heaven. As I grew older and came to appreciate the suffering of those left behind, I held on to my parents’ promises and my own conviction that heaven is indeed worth the pain of this temporary separation. Over the years, I’ve found additional consolation in my faith and in the wonderful accounts offered by those gifted with Near Death Experiences. These people who have tasted life after this life assure us all that my parents’ promises from long ago are well-founded.

A close encounter with this phenomenon came at the hands of my mom. She was diagnosed with terminal cancer and given a prognosis of four months. After acknowledging that she had lived a good and long life, my mother’s only wish was to be independent for as long as possible. As it happened, she remained miraculously pain-free and medication-free, except for her insulin, until the end. It was during her final week among us that my mom mentioned the beautiful voices. She also remarked that her sisters were waiting for her. The morning of the day she passed, I asked my mom if she was afraid. Her face glowed when she answered, “Oh no, Mary. It’s beautiful over there!” I’ve read most of what has been written on the topic and I assure you that my mom’s observation underscores it all.

Loving God, thank you for these amazing glimpses of the wonder that lies ahead.

©2018 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

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Good Things To Come

They carried to him all those afflicted
with various diseases and racked with pain…
He cured them all.

From Matthew 4:24

The arrival of our newest grandchild, my grandson’s birthday and an upcoming family wedding have elicited poignant memories of my loved ones passed. Though I’m certain of their current bliss, the sting of their departures has resurfaced today. These celebratory occasions have made my parents’ and my sister’s and brother’s absence tangible. I can’t help recalling the details of their last days among us.

When the people we love are sick, it’s difficult to see God’s hand in their suffering. When depression, addiction or a misguided heart brings them pain, we wonder why this occurs. When their days are numbered, the inevitable is difficult to accept. We recall the healing powers of Jesus and ask, “Why not now?”

When I find myself struggling with this question, I consider Jesus’ experience as one of us. He struggled with trials and tribulations just as we do. If that wasn’t enough, he hung on a cross as well. It occurs to me that the only reason he was able to endure all of this was because he knew what lay ahead. In the midst of the worst of his misery, Jesus never lost sight of God’s love for him and the future God promised in the hereafter.

In spite of the losses of my loved ones and the other tribulations which have come my way, I also know of the things to come. If I’m honest with myself, I must admit that this truly is enough to see me through. Jesus and all of our loved ones in the hereafter tell us again and again that this is so!

Dear God, when they going gets rough, nudge us along with reminders of the things to come.

©2018 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Expectations Fulfilled…

In verdant pastures God gives me repose;
beside restful waters God leads me;
God refreshes my soul.

From Psalm 23:2-3

This is the anniversary of my sister’s departure for the hereafter.

When Cecele returned to her doctor due to a persistent cough, she didn’t expect him to suggest an exploratory procedure. Not long afterward, she didn’t expect to hear about cancer, her months-long prognosis and the chemo which might or might not help. When she finally absorbed all of this, Cecele observed, “I’m a fighter. I’m going to fight this.” And that she did!

My sister dug in her heals and embraced the regimen of care laid out for her. The rest of us accompanied her to appointments and did whatever else we could to lighten her burden. We talked a little and we listened a lot. When the chemo wreaked havoc with her hair, my sister’s daughter-in-law shaved her head for her. Though the Cancer Society provided a lovely wig, Cecele determined that bald is beautiful. On her, it really was. When the chemo failed to help, Cecele accepted hospice care. Again, she fought, This time, she fought to accomplish everything that needed to be done before she took her leave. And that she did, too. I don’t think I’ll ever meet an equally prepared dying person!

Though my sister’s final journey was unexpected, the outcome was precisely what she’d hoped for. When I bade my final farewell to her earthly remains, the peace on Cecele’s face was unmistakable. The few glimpses of the hereafter which had graced her last days sustained Cecele through her good-byes and her last breaths. I have no doubt that her experience of the things to come is everything she hoped for and so much more! It was her expectation regarding eternal life which saw her through what could have been a far more difficult journey.

Loving God, thank you for this life and the amazing life to come.

©2018 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserve

The Bright Side

With me at your right hand,
you will not be shaken.

Psalm 16:8

My husband gingerly eased into his recliner, saying, “My shoulder really hurts.” Then he quickly added, “But if this is the worst that happens today, I’m a lucky person.”

Our life together hasn’t been trauma free. Still, my husband and I try to look at the brighter side of things when tragedy touches us. I was blessed with this mindset early on. My husband wasn’t. It’s taken years of nurturing his own faith as best he could for him to develop this positive stance toward life’s negatives. Though this transformation sometimes reverts to a “work in progress,” I admire Mike’s persistence.

You know, God has encouraged our faith from the beginning. When humankind failed to acknowledge the wisdom of the prophets, God sent Jesus of Nazareth to get our attention even more dramatically. Who but one from God could have conceived of the prodigal son’s forgiving father and the lost coin’s owner who turned everything upside down to find it? Who but one from God could have lived love, compassion, mercy and forgiveness with such perfection? Yet, in spite of his goodness, tragedy touched Jesus’ life as well.

It seems to me that the moral of the story is this: Because we are not yet in heaven, this life will never be perfect. Still, God loves us and remains with us in everything. This is all we need to know.

Loving God, thank you for your ongoing presence as we make our way home to you.

©2018 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Independence Day

My dream is of a place and a time where
America will once again be seen as the last best hope of earth.

Abraham Lincoln

Though I normally cite a scripture passage to set the tone for these reflections, I couldn’t resist the quote above. While searching my desktop for something else, I found this amazing bit of wisdom from my favorite president…

On July 4, 1776, our forefathers (and fore-mothers!) saw this neophyte of a nation as just that: The last best hope of earth. Our collective history from that day forward has been punctuated with the very best humanity has to offer. It has also been tarnished by less-than-honorable behavior which has managed to soil us all a bit. Still, we carry on as one imperfect people who celebrate our freedom with every choice we make.

On occasion, I’ve looked upward to ask, “What were you thinking, Dear God, when you gave us free will?” God’s only response is the sound of Divine Laughter echoing throughout the heavens. As unhelpful… No, as terrible as some of our choices have been, God knows that someone somewhere always manages to draw good out of each one. It seems to me that this phenomenon is particularly important these days when so many of our seemingly cemented opinions of things clash at every turn.

On this wonderful day in our nation’s history, I invite you to embrace a bit of independence. Free yourself from your anger and discontent and embrace the good things that are in place around you. At the same time, consider this: Is there something you can do today in your little corner of this nation which will take this country a step closer to her place as the last best hope of this earth? If we can remember that not one of us is all bad, we may just catch a glimpse of the good lying within those with whom we disagree most. When we find that good, let’s all make the most if it!

Dear Patient God, make us good stewards of our freedom and of your love.

©2018 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Z is for…

God’s holy mountain, 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 upon us from above.

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. For this, 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 written word never ceased to inspire as well. Thank you!

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!

©2018 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved