Time For Peace

A time to love, and a time to hate,
a time of war, and a time for peace.

Ecclesiastes 3:8

Each year, Independence Day observances conjure up recurring memories which will always be with me…

My husband and I have enjoyed celebrating July 4 since our first summer together as husband and wife. When our sons came along, they added exponentially to these observances. We live very near the center of our community on a cul-de-sac that was once filled with children. As a result, we all enjoyed our local fireworks displays from the comforts of our front yards. This amazing circus added to my affection for this holiday.

My earliest Independence Day memories include my own family’s quest for the nearest and best fireworks displays. This was particularly important July 4, 1959. My dad passed away early that morning and helpful relatives who whisked us away for the annual family picnic no doubt wondered if any sort of celebration was appropriate that night. Though I saw no fireworks that night, I find great solace in the fireworks displays I’ve observed every year since. Colorful lights bursting in the black sky above suggest resurrection to me. As I watch, I imagine that my dad’s passing into eternal life must have been a million times more glorious. While the sparkling displays above me consistently dissolve into smoke and ash, my dad’s transformation continues with each moment of eternity.

This year, I’m asking my dad to take advantage of this 58th Anniversary of his first day in heaven. I’m asking him to rally all of the good will at his disposal and to shower over this country and our entire world. Perhaps his effort will be enough to nudge each of us to do our parts in working toward world peace. What a miracle it would be to celebrate July 4, 2018, without a gun being fired or a harsh word spoken anywhere.

Loving God, inspire us to use the gift of our freedom to free this world of conflict and discord wherever we find ourselves.

©2017 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

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Feel The Love

O my dove in the clefts of the rock, in the
secret recesses of the cliff, let me see you,
let me hear your voice,
for your voice is sweet and lovely.

Song of Songs 2:14

While preparing for a Christmas gathering, I desperately tried to find places for items displaced by our Christmas decorations. Though my closet doesn’t have much room to spare, I looked for a useful nook. In the process, I bumped into a plastic container filled with a lifetime of mementos. Busy as I was, I allowed myself a very long minute to examine these treasures. I came across programs from the weddings of several loved ones. I couldn’t help smiling as I read the names of the maids of honor, best men and others involved. One of the programs included scripture readings which were shared that day. Among them, I found the passage from the Song of Songs cited above.

This particular passage is a favorite. Our friend Scott read these words at our wedding. My husband and I selected this reading because we were taken in by the painful longing this lover expressed for his beloved. What we did not fully appreciate is that the lover who spoke so passionately is the God of Israel who desperately sought to be reunited with the Jewish People. This Divine longing persisted for centuries and came to fruition in the gift of Jesus. On the first Christmas, God expressed this unrequited love face-to-face and heart-to-heart in the most tangible way possible. God expressed this love in the gentle cooing of the newborn baby who would spend his life convincing us all that God’s love for us is very, very real.

Loving God, thank you for your persistence. Today, busy as I am, I’ll slow down to bask in your love!

©2014 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Be A Hero… Inspire Joy!

We humans are a powerful bunch. One of our three-second smiles can transform a friend’s troubled outlook into joy. A single thoughtful compliment can put a bounce in the step of a colleague who’s been feeling dejected as of late. An arm wrapped around the shoulders of our contrite offspring quickly returns peace to his or her little world. These small efforts pale in the light of the saints and heroes who’ve walked this earth. Still, I think any one of these special people would assure us that their small efforts to love their fellow humans were precisely what empowered them to do the things which we consider to be extraordinary.

If given the chance, I think each of us could assemble a long list of the people who’ve influenced us most over the course of our lives. Their contributions to who we have become made a difference regardless of their stature in the world at large. In my life, even the powerful interactions which fell on the negative side of things instilled wisdom which eventually made an important difference in me.

The scripture passages for this Fourth Sunday of Advent feature some of the most influential of our biblical counterparts. In the first reading (Isaiah 7:10-14), Isaiah emerges once again to uplift his suffering people who are convinced that they face certain annihilation at the hands of their enemies. In this encounter, Isaiah reminds the people that God is with them. Indeed, God would remain with them regardless of the outcome of any threat which loomed overhead. In the second reading (Romans 1:1-7), Paul echoes Isaiah’s reassurance. Paul goes on to point out that he himself had persecuted the God’s people until he experienced Jesus for himself. Because of his newfound faith, Paul’s life changed forever. So it happened that on that day Paul stood with Jesus’ followers and assured them that God remained with them as well. If Isaiah’s and Paul’s great faith aren’t enough, Matthew’s gospel (Matthew 1:18-24) reminds us that Jesus and his parents faced uncertain circumstances from the very beginning of their life together.

I admit that our biblical heroes and heroines sometimes seem a bit too distant to have a lasting impact on me. Having written that, I must quickly add that this is never the case with Joseph and Mary. Of all of those who have come before us, this duo lived amazingly similar, yet frightfully more adverse lives than our own. Matthew chronicled the ominous adversity which Jesus’ parents dealt with from the moment they discovered he was on the way. Do you recall the angel’s visit to Mary? While Mary placed absolute faith in God’s plan for her, Joseph prepared to welcome his bride to his home. When Mary shared the news of her pregnancy, she shattered poor Joseph’s dreams. Being a just man who loved Mary dearly, Joseph decided to divorce her quietly rather than to expose her to shame and possible stoning to death (the prescribed punishment to unmarried pregnant women of the day). Amazingly, when Joseph encountered the truth about Jesus’ conception in a dream, he embraced this message and welcomed Mary and her child into his life. Joseph knew with certainty that God was with him. On that first Christmas night, Mary’s and Joseph’s faith morphed into absolute joy when they finally saw Jesus’ sweet little face. It is that face which inspired them to persist throughout the decades of uncertainty which lay ahead.

On this last Sunday of Advent, I offer my thanks for the heroes and heroines who have made me who I am. Whether I met them face to face or encountered them in books, the scriptures or prayer, I’m going to try to emulate them as I work my way to Christmas Day. I write “work” intentionally. As organized as you and I may be, we will run at one time or another this week. Whether we scramble for last-minute gifts or to respond to an unexpected request for assistance, we will do what we must for those who need us and to ready ourselves. When we respond with grace to what is asked of us, we’ll honor those who’ve contributed to who we are today, especially God who orchestrated it all. At the same time, we’ll evolve into heroines and heroes ourselves who inspire others to do the same. This is the power of our humanity!

You know, I began Advent 2016 with a message of hope. That hope evolved into joy and then into an inclination to share that joy. Today, it seems that we are called to share that joy heroically. Though our efforts often seem small to us, they mean everything to those who need us. Indeed, we humans are a very powerful bunch. What better time is there to show it?

©2016 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Prepare The Way…

On that day,
A shoot shall sprout from the stump of Jesse…

Isaiah 11:1

It was two years ago that I had my shoulder repaired. Though I survived this ordeal, the month of November, especially Thanksgiving Day, has unexpectedly elicited related memories. I recall timing the surgery so Thanksgiving and Christmas preparations would distract me from the painful recovery which I was warned would come. As it happened, these distractions weren’t as helpful as I’d hoped. Still, the pain wasn’t as horrific as expected either. I eventually learned to put my incapacitation to good use. As a result, I embraced Advent 2013 with great fervor.

You know, Advent 2015 begins tomorrow. Once again, I am given four weeks to engage in joyful anticipation of Christmas. Most years, except for 2013, it is extremely difficult for me to find the time to truly and joyfully anticipate this feast. There is just so much to do. As I look ahead to the next twenty-seven days, I’ve decided to recapture the simplified life-style which was forced upon me after my surgery. This year, I’m going to prioritize, organize and enjoy the wait for Christmas.

Will you join me in seeking a bit of simplification as well? Though none of us can shirk all of our responsibilities, we can all probably let a few things fall to the wayside. Trust me. Once you start, this will become easier than you think!

Loving God, heaven touched the earth the day Jesus was born. This year, help us to celebrate this miracle joyfully.

©2015 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Make It A Good Friday

Stand erect and raise your heads
because your redemption is at hand.

Luke 21:28

Though I still savor the turkey, Thanksgiving Day is fading into a distant memory. I know. It was only yesterday. Still, shoppers headed out before the leftovers were put away last night. Others left their beds in the wee hours this morning to take advantage of sales. Many who are working today will go directly to the mall afterward with the hope that their wish list items are still available. Overnight, the Christmas Shopping Season made its stealth entrance quite effectively.

If you haven’t given much thought to shopping yet, don’t worry. Though today’s sales will make a dent in store inventories, those empty shelves will be filled again soon enough. The lagging economy beckons, and retailers everywhere will seek your contribution to the cause through 11:59 on Christmas Eve. In the mean time, I invite you to join me in letting go of the holiday frenzy.

I’ve decided to approach my shopping needs in small increments. My husband and I will decorate in small increments as well. We enjoy the Christmas Season best of all and we hope to attend to every minute of it. In the process, we will avoid the weariness which comes with trying to do too much in too little time. I invite you to join me in finding ways to remove just a bit of the hustle and bustle of the season from your life. In the end, you will find yourself enjoying Christmas more than ever before,

Caring God, though the Christmas Season is meant to celebrate Jesus’ birth, our desire to please those we love sometimes gets in the way of our good intentions. Give us patience with one another, endurance to do the things we must and the wisdom to let things go that really won’t matter in the end. And, please, be with us through it all.

©2015 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Celebrate St. Patrick

The Lord of hosts is with us;
our stronghold is the God of Jacob.
Come! Behold the deeds of the Lord,
the astounding things God has wrought on earth.

Psalm 46:8-9

When I taught, I enjoyed celebrating special days with my students. Our activities included lessons regarding these observances of our holidays and heroes. We decorated our classroom and completed related projects. Occasionally, we engaged in impromptu discussions. One year, this occurred on St. Patrick’s Day. A colleague sported a green hat, shamrock pin and a temporary name tag which misspelled her name with an “O” before it. Had she provided the same for me, it would have read “Mrs. O’Penich.” Some of my students were intrigued by this display and asked me to explain. I responded with St. Patrick’s story.

As a teenager, Patrick was captured, taken from his home in Scotland and imprisoned in Ireland. While there, Patrick spent much of his time in prayer. This helped him to feel close to God. When Patrick escaped and returned home years later, he became a priest. Eventually, Patrick felt that God wanted him to go back to Ireland to teach the people. I explained that our Irish friends celebrate St. Patrick’s Day because the Irish people were and continue to be grateful to Patrick for sharing his faith with them. Good teacher that I was, we continued this discussion by listing other important people and the reasons we honor them. In the end, all concerned hoped to accomplish something worth remembering as well.

Trusting God, you call each of us to do important work in your name. Help us to respond as Patrick and so many others have. Fill us with the dedication and the courage we need to answer your call.

©2015 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved