Good Things To Come

I will not leave you orphaned.
John 14:18

I acknowledge that recent losses have impacted my writing as of late. Over the holidays, a friend lost her dad and another her grandpa. I lost a friend as well. Recent conversations have been punctuated with memories of our loved ones passed. In every case, our animated tones betray 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 grandfathers and my dad himself passed on.

A lifetime of losses and my 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 stumble over my words in my attempts to offer encouragement to those in mourning. I mistakenly take their tears a sign that they aren’t as certain as I am regarding the things to come.

Whenever I receive news of someone’s passing, I congratulate him or her on this achievement. Afterward, I ask this person to watch over those left to mourn. 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. Finally, I stopped fretting over my choice of words. Being there is far more important than anything I might say.

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

©2018 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved


Happily Hopeful

He was transfigured before their eyes.
His face became as dazzling as the sun
and his clothes radiant as light.

Matthew 17:2

Yesterday’s reflection regarding the loss of my friend George brought to mind another dear soul. When I shared my impression of George’s faith, images of my mother filled me up. No wonder George and I became immediate friends. He could have been my mom’s brother! Both offer the rest of a lesson in embracing the hereafter…

When the doctor discovered her diseased gallbladder and ordered surgery, I expected to hear that my mom’s recovery might be lengthy, that her minimal dementia might be increased by the anesthesia and that we needed to be prepared for a decline as her body was growing tired. I didn’t expect to hear about cancer, her four-month life expectancy and the possibility of pain which might darken her perpetual smile. Then, we told our mother the news…

Our mom shared our surprise at the diagnosis, but not at the outcome. “We all have to die from something. I’ve had a good long life. I wanted to leave an educated family that contributes and I have. I hope I can do what I want for a while. I hope I can be comfortable. I hope I go without too much trouble. I hope…” I hoped, too.

Though this news was unexpected, the outcome was precisely what my mom had hoped for. The pain never came. Mom did everything she hoped to do until her last two days. On the day she left us, her eyes were closed, but her heart was open. She knew exactly what was in store and she embraced it.

Generous God, thank you for the happy passing which ushered my mom into eternity. Please bless us all with the same.

©2018 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Never Fear…

“As for you, every hair of your head has been counted;
so do not be afraid of anything.”

Matthew 10:30

A friend from church passed away just before Christmas. George* is an octogenarian who’d been battling cancer for some time. Though he’d done remarkably well, treatment had taken its toll and his body was simply too tired to deal with any more. The last time I saw him, George told me he was feeling quite well and doing great. Still, when we parted, he gave me an unexpected hug which lasted longer than anticipated. I couldn’t help thinking at the time that he may not have been completely honest with me. Knowing George as I did, he likely didn’t want either of us to have to say good-bye. I admit that this gesture was generous to us both. I couldn’t have offered my farewell to him without a stream of tears.

Though my friend’s protective spirit saved me from my tears that day, I admit that they flowed freely when I received the news of his passing. Our conversations were always so lively and informative that I couldn’t imagine George any other way. This attitude remained throughout everything he’d endured. More importantly, his faith remained as well. George’s main concern seems to have been for those he would leave behind. As for George, he knew he was going home, the home we’ll all occupy one day.

Loving God, thank you for sharing George with me. Bless us all with a measure of his unshakable faith.

*I call my friend “George” because I erroneously referred to him with this misnomer when we first met.

©2018 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Happy Birthday, Daddy!

For your kindness is before my eyes,
and I walk in your truth.

Psalm 26:3

My dad would have celebrated his ninety-eighth birthday today. Perhaps I shouldn’t have written “would have” as heaven may acknowledge such milestones with far more revelry than we do!

When I was a little girl, the proximity of my dad’s birthday to Christmas troubled me. Young as I was, I appreciated the possibility that his special day was likely lost in the hustle and bustle of yuletide every year. Eventually, I asked my dad if he minded that his birthday fell two days after Christmas.

My dad replied with great wisdom. He told me that his birth date was just fine with him. After all, Christmas was a very good day which led into his own very good day. The truth is that my grandparents had little money which leads me to believe that my dad didn’t receive many gifts on either day. Still, he shared his memories with a smile big enough to convince this daughter that his childhood Christmases and birthdays were just as they should have been. It occurs to me that I should take this revelation as an invitation to make every day special for someone!

Loving God, thank you for my dad who taught me about your love by loving me so generously.

©2017 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Find Joy and Share It!

As we begin our worship today, the pink candle which flickers among the purple calls us to rejoice. The Advent Season is half over and our anticipation of Christmas will soon be satisfied. As I consider the lessons of the past week, I find that I relied quite heavily upon the inspiration I drew from Isaiah. The First Sunday of Advent, Isaiah called us clay formed into goodness by God’s own hand and we prayed that God would make it so. Last Sunday, Isaiah moved us from God’s hands to God’s heart. The prophet called us lambs held in God’s bosom and soothed by the rhythm of God’s heartbeat. We prayed that our hearts might be synchronized with God’s so we might respond to this world as God does. Indeed, this prayer was answered for me…

This past Saturday, my sister Rita hosted a gathering of our cousins. This annual reunion rouses the Christmas Spirit in even the most harried of us. Cheerful conversation and bread broken together made for a most enjoyable afternoon. Though my cousins and I have raised our own children and added several grandchildren to the mix, as we sat around Rita’s table, I quickly returned to my childhood. Though we’ve all evolved into vintage versions of our former selves, I found great joy in envisioning my cousins, my sisters and me as children.

As is always the case, after sharing each of our families’ current events, our conversation drifted to the many family members who are no longer with us. Only our dear Uncle Gerard remains of all of our parents. We’ve also lost cousins who were far too young to take their leave. Still, the spirits of these loved ones lingered about us as we laughed over the decades of great times we shared with them. As I considered my family members in the hereafter, I could almost hear my mom and dad assuring me, “You know, Mary, if you really believe what you say you believe, you know that this is what we lived for. We are in a very good place!” I was tempted to respond aloud, “Yes, but I still miss you!” Of course, I thought better of this as I didn’t want to leave my extended family with the impression that I’d gone over the deep end with no life-preserver! Rather, I reminded them of our parents’ great faith and how they comforted us each and every time we had to say good-bye. Though our collective childhood was punctuated too often by these events, my most vivid memory of our family gatherings continues to be the joy we found in the midst of them.

As I prepared for this writing, it occurred to me that my faith-filled upbringing has much in common with our Advent 2017 journey. Both have much to teach us. The past year has been a sobering experience on many levels. Worldwide unrest, unyielding natural disasters and ever-worsening violence have given us all reason to step back to find some perspective. At the same time, our hearts nudge us forward to do something to improve things. My parents’ faith gave me some sense of God’s ongoing concern and our Advent journeys do the same. As we focus upon the joy of Christmas 2017, we must become the clay in God’s hands and the lambs in God’s arms. We must do what we can to transform every day with the joy God infused into the first Christmas.

This is where we find Isaiah in today’s first reading (Isaiah 61:1-2a, 10-11). This prophet who allowed himself to be molded by God’s hands and who aligned his own heart with God’s heart announced, “The spirit of the Lord God is upon me, because the Lord has anointed me; he has sent me to bring glad tidings to the poor, to heal the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and release to the prisoners, to announce a year of favor from the Lord…” As Isaiah came to understand God’s intent more fully, he preached tirelessly to encourage those around him to do the same. Centuries later, John’s gospel (1:6-8, 19-28) echoed Isaiah’s message through The Baptizer. When asked his role in the grand scheme of things, John the Baptist responded, “I am the voice of one crying out in the desert, make straight the way of the Lord.” He continued Isaiah’s attempt to bring understanding to the people regarding all that God has in store. As was the case with Isaiah, John’s work was difficult. As for you and me, we can choose to be hard-hearted people completely distracted by this life’s troubles or we can allow God to mold us into joyful lambs who can’t help sharing the good news of what lies beyond our journeys here!

The joy we find in this church today invites us to look beyond the windows into a world of opportunity to spread the promise of Christmas. However we choose to do so, we can bring joy to the moments at hand. However we choose to do so, we can make every day Christmas Day for ourselves and for those we’ve been given to love both nearby and far away.

©2017 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Joy That Lasts!

“I assure you, there is no man
born of woman greater than John.
Yet the least born into the kingdom of God
is greater than he.”

Luke 7:28

While working on our Christmas Cards, memories of Christmas Past filled me up. Year after year, our large family gathered to celebrate this favorite of all holy days. This year, I’m struck hard by the number of family members we’ve lost. My mom had seven siblings and all have joined her in the hereafter. My dad was one of twelve and only his youngest brother remains with us. I lost my brother Raoul, my sister Cecele and several of cousins decades earlier than my family ever expected.

Though these don’t seem to be “Christmas” thoughts, the mood of each of their wakes and funerals gives me reason to believe that my musing is just that. Though we lamented each loss, we also celebrated our favorite memories of each one. We added our projections regarding their current activities at home with God. Though we miss each one, the joy we found in these loved ones has never escaped us.

Apparently, the gift of those who go home didn’t escape Jesus either. When Jesus acknowledged the greatness of anyone who makes it home to God, he offered us more hope than we could ever have imagined. Jesus also gave us more reason to rejoice than we would otherwise have known possible.

Generous God, with great joy, I anticipate our celebration of the birth of Jesus. His coming revealed your unconditional love and your amazing plans for each one of us. Thank you!

©2017 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved