Prepare The Way

Do not fear, Mary. You have found favor with God.
You shall conceive and bear a son…

From Luke 1:30-31

Advent 2020 begins this Sunday. I was reluctant to type “2020” as this year to date has been challenging at best. Advent usually urges us to make time in our holiday frenzy to engage in the joyful anticipation of Christmas. Most years, this is difficult because there’s just so much to do! This year will be very different. Our efforts to limit errands to the essentials and to avoid crowds have probably already inspired a good deal of online shopping. We’re also likely paring down our Christmas gatherings to our immediate families. As I look ahead, I wonder what there is to joyfully anticipate in all of this…

As soon as I typed that last sentence, images from my visit to the Holy Land filled me up. As I recall the unearthed homes which were part of Jesus’ neighborhood in Nazareth, I’m immediately reminded that life wasn’t easy for Mary and Joseph either. They lived under an often combative government which considered the needs of the people a low priority. The temple hierarchy was often inclined to do the same. Mary and Joseph prepared for Jesus’ birth in the midst of tough circumstances.

Perhaps Year 2020 is the perfect year to recapture the spirit with which Mary and Joseph approached that first Christmas. Perhaps we can focus a bit less upon what we can’t do and can’t have and celebrate what we can do and what we do have. In the face of all that we’ve been through this year, we might spend Advent 2020 paving a safe and content path to Christmas.

Loving God, in spite of our struggles, help us to take joyful steps to Christmas Day.

©2020 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Thank You, God!

Give thanks to God;
bless God’s name for God is good:
God’s kindness endures forever…

From Psalm 100:4-5

As I consider the things for which I’m grateful, I find that I have more time than usual to compile a list. It seems that I have more time than usual for everything these days! Though roasting a turkey and preparing all of the side dishes is always a challenge, portions will be much smaller this year. We can’t all gather around one table in one of our homes, so we will celebrate with one another in spirit. For this I say, “Thank you, God!”

The next point on my list of blessings is this family of mine. That I actually married was a huge surprise to me. That my husband and I have children is a miracle, literally, according to the doctors. I am most grateful for these developments! I’m also grateful for my parents who shared themselves and God with me. They appreciated God’s love and their resulting ability to weather any storm taught me to do the same. I’m grateful for my sisters and my brother, too. Each of them contributed to who I am today in so many ways. Thank you, God!

I appreciate the extended family and my friends who have added so much to my life and to me. Thank you, God!

I appreciate God’s love, too. When in doubt, I turn to Jesus who insisted that God loves us as we are with all of our frailties intact. He also assured us that God expects only what we are able to do, nothing more. Thank you for this, Dear God, because I sometimes forget that I’m good enough just as I am!

On this Thanksgiving Day, this reflection should be the longest I’ve ever written because my blessings are so numerous. Suffice to say that God knows them all and that I’m most grateful. I hope you find that the same is true for you!

Happy Thanksgiving!

Generous God, thank you for everything!

©2020 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Be Generously Grateful

It is good to give thanks to God.
Psalm 92:1

Thanksgiving is just two days away. This week, in the midst of prepping, I habitually offer prayers for those who work on Thanksgiving Day. Though I realize that our police, firefighters, EMTs and hospital staffers are used to rotating shifts through the holidays, I wish that stores and other non-essential businesses would close on this one national holiday which we all have reason to share. Still, this year, I’m not certain that I should voice this wish. So many long for a typical workday and the salary that comes with it…

This realization gives me reason to adjust my Thanksgiving prayers. After praying for all of those workers, I’m going to list all of the things for which I’m grateful. But I’m won’t stop there. After each one, I’m going to add a prayer. When I give thanks for my family, I will pray for all of the families who’ve lost someone to COVID-19. When I offer thanks for our own negative test results, I’ll pray for those who suffer with this and all diseases of the body, mind and spirit. When I offer thanks for our material blessings, I’ll pray for the many who need so much simply to get through another day. As I consider what their Thanksgiving meal might be like, I’ll promise to tweak our budget just enough to provide food for at least some of those in need.

I think it’s fair to say that none of us are completely satisfied with our situations today. The pandemic has certainly taken its toll. Still, I invite you to join me in finding the inspiration in our own blessings to pray for those and to do something for those who need them perhaps more than we do.

Loving God, we are so grateful for all that we have. Now be with us as we share our blessings with those in need.

©2020 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

It’s Time To Love…

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

Ecclesiastes 3:8

In spite of the absence of fireworks displays this Independence Day, this beloved holiday conjures 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 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 on in eternity.

This year, I’m asking my dad to take advantage of this 61st Anniversary of his first day in heaven. I’m asking him to rally all of the good will at his disposal and to shower it 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, especially within our own borders. What a miracle it would be to celebrate July 4, 2020, 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.

©2020 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

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