God’s Very Real 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 loving gaze!

©2019 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Inspired By Mary of Nazareth

What does one do when she intends to dance her way through Advent, but stubs her toe within the first few steps? What does one do when he receives an unexpected diagnosis just a week into this four week journey? What does one do when he attempts to bring a bit of Merry Christmas to every day, but finds his good intentions rerouted by the loss of a loved one? What does one do when she tries her hardest to bring joy to the world, but finds herself unable to move beyond the unrest deep within her own heart? Since the beginning, I’ve urged you to join me in spreading glad tidings and dancing through Advent to Christmas Day. Still, in spite of our best efforts, many of you have discovered with me that this is sometimes more difficult than it seems…

The bumps in the road I’ve encountered this Advent too often threatened to derail my efforts. Rather than giving up on my good intentions, I decided to find encouragement in another Mary, the one who prepared for the first Christmas. When I was a child, I imagined this Mary filled with joy and unable to contain her love for the child she carried within her. I pictured Mary as she appears on many of our Christmas cards. So much at peace, Mary needed only to bow her head in prayer as she awaited Jesus’ birth. She knew God would take care of everything else. My young heart was incapable of comprehending Mary’s actual predicament. As I grew older, I realized that things weren’t quite as easy for Mary as my childhood musing suggested. When I traveled to the Holy Land a few years ago, a visit to Nazareth deepened my thoughts on the matter.

Mary of Nazareth was a young teen when she embraced this out-of-wedlock pregnancy. Her parents had raised Mary to be chaste and faithful to The Law. I can only imagine how they dealt with this news! Mary was betrothed to Joseph who was a good and just man. How did she explain this turn of events to him? Mary must have realized that the politics of her day made life difficult for the Jewish people. Did talk of this child add to their suffering? Did Mary consider the threat to her own safety? A woman caught in adultery drew the rage of the righteous which usually ended with her being stoned to death. As I walked through Nazareth three years ago, busy Israelis passed me from every direction. Some seemed immersed in the concerns of their day. Others laughed and chatted as they entered shops and restaurants. Still others, who’d covered themselves with broad hats and dark clothing, peered impatiently at less devout passersby. I wondered if they would have responded to Mary’s pregnancy with stones. Though the scriptures provide few details, it seems that Mary responded bravely to it all.

From the onset, Mary trusted in God’s faithfulness. As I walked the streets of Nazareth, I longed for the peace which urged Mary on. As I breathed in the air around me, I prayed that I would also breathe in Mary’s conviction that God is with me and with us all through everything we endure. For Mary of Nazareth, sadness and uncertainty never extinguished the spark of peace which was a constant within her heart. Though the complexities of this life grew with every step Jesus walked toward manhood, Mary trusted and carried on. As I ambled along the streets which were so familiar to Mary and Jesus, I admitted to myself that I haven’t been as adept as they were in dealing with the complexities of this life. Still, as Mary believed and as Jesus insisted, God remains with me.

So it is that I invite you to embrace the three days which remain until Christmas with renewed resolve. Though our eyes droop over perpetual to-do lists, look with me through Mary’s eyes toward Christmas Joy. Though our feet ache a bit from too many stumbles and too much running, let’s dance our way to join Mary beside Jesus’ manger. Though we’ve run out of shopping time, you and I know that we’ll never run out of blessings. Regardless of our successful and failed Christmas preparations, Mary’s peace and our own will abound on Christmas Day. Just as was the case for Mary that first Christmas Day, joy will prevail in the precious people we have been given to love. Most importantly, God’s love for you and me will be wrapped and unwrapped over and over again on Christmas Day and always. Merry Christmas!

©2019 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

The Advent of Joy

Love your neighbor as yourself.
From Matthew 22:19

As I strung lights around our Christmas Tree, I remembered my mom doing the same half a century ago. I loved watching her transform the year’s bare tree into our living room’s centerpiece. While perched on a small ladder, she placed ornaments strategically. Those that reflected most were hung near the brightest lights. Though we lived in a crowded flat, there was always room for that tree and the tiny village she’d fashion beneath it.

The Christmas I recall most vividly, our dad had passed away the previous July. Young as I was, I wondered how my mom found the strength to celebrate that year. In spite of the sadness which remained with us all of those months, my older sister Rita joined Mom in preparing special gifts for each of us. On Christmas Eve, our parish priests asked my brother to walk his wagon down to the rectory. Raoul returned with a beautifully wrapped package for himself and his five sisters. Who could have expected more? None of us did, but it came…

After Christmas dinner at home, we went on to Aunt Claire’s and Uncle Steve’s home to celebrate with our extended family. My aunt and uncle ushered us to their Christmas Tree for more gifts. Though all concerned knew that nothing could replace my dad, they did their best to emulate his love for us. Though I can’t name the gifts I received that year, I continue to feel the love offered which has sustained me for a lifetime.

In spite of the terrible loss my family experienced, those who loved us did their best to bring joy to that long ago Christmas. It seems to me that we observe Advent best when we do the same for one another.

Loving God, help me to bring joy to others in everything I say and do.

©2019 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

It’s Time To Prepare

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

Isaiah 11:1

While at the grocery store the other day, I saw a fellow shopper wearing a very familiar sling. I couldn’t help asking if he’d had shoulder surgery. The poor guy wearily replied in the affirmative. After encouraging him as best I could, I wished him a speedy recovery and returned to my grocery list. I’m certain shopping took me twice the time that day because memories of my own shoulder surgery emerged in full force…

When I counted back in time, I discovered it was six years ago that I had my shoulder repaired. I recalled timing the surgery to allow Thanksgiving and Christmas preparations to 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 incapacity to good use. As a result, I embraced Advent 2013 with great fervor.

You know, Advent 2019 begins tomorrow. Once again, I’m given four weeks to engage in joyful anticipation of Christmas. Most years, it’s extremely difficult to find the time to truly joyfully anticipate this feast. There’s just so much to do! As I look ahead to the next twenty-four 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. I’m also going to have to look for that fellow with the shoulder sling to thank him for the inspiration. My fervor during Advent 2019 will be better than it might have been as a result of my conversation with him.

Loving God, this year, help us to all celebrate Advent and Jesus’ birth with resounding joy.

©2019 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Independence Day Hope

A time to love… and a time for peace.
From Ecclesiastes 3:8

It’s Independence Day and precious memories fill me up…

My husband and I have enjoyed celebrating July 4 since our first summer together. When our sons came along, they added exponentially to these observances. We live near the center of our community on a cul-de-sac which was once filled with children. Our location allowed us to enjoy local fireworks displays from the comforts of our front yards which added to my affection for this holiday.

My earliest Independence Day memories include my own family’s quest for the best fireworks around. This was particularly important sixty years ago. My dad passed away early that morning. Helpful relatives whisked us kids away for our annual family picnic in an effort to give our mom some peace. I’m certain my well-meaning aunts and uncles wondered if any sort of celebration was appropriate that day. Though I saw no fireworks that night, I’ve found great solace in the displays I’ve observed every year since. Colorful lights bursting in the black sky suggest resurrection to me. As I watch, I imagine that my dad’s passing into eternal life must have been even more glorious. While those sparkling displays above dissolve into smoke and ash, my dad’s transformation continues for all of eternity.

On this 60th Anniversary of his first day in heaven, I’m asking my dad to rally all of the good will at his disposal and to shower it over this country and our entire world. Perhaps Daddy’s effort will nudge us all to do our parts in working toward world peace. What a miracle it would be to celebrate July 4, 2019 without a gun being fired or a harsh word spoken anywhere!

Loving God, inspire us to use the gift of our freedom to transform this world into a haven of peace for all people.

©2019 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Sweet Memories

A family record of Jesus Christ…
Matthew 1:1

Before preparing this year’s Christmas Cards, I updated my Christmas Card addresses. As time passes, I find that this task takes longer and longer because my stockpile of memories continues to grow. Usually, I smile my way through this work in response to the images of loved ones that dance in my head. The other day, I did the same when I lingered at our wall of family photos. This year, my encounter with my address file was bittersweet. A renewed sense of loss emerged each time I came to the name of someone who has passed away since last Christmas. I told myself that I know these loved ones are rejoicing more than ever this year. With that, I giggled at a mental picture of that amazing party!

When I finally returned to the task at hand, I discovered that bits of hope, peace and joy were making their way to the surface. When I finally printed those address labels, I offered a share of that hope and peace and joy to these loved ones. I also thanked them for bringing me the same over the years.

Caring God, Jesus taught from the heart and soul of a family member and friend who fully understands our joys and our sorrows. Thank you for sending Jesus as one of us!

©2018 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved