A Grateful Child

God is light; in God there is no darkness.
From 1 John 1:5

I’m thinking about my dad. Yesterday was his birthday. He would have been 101 if he was with us to add another year to his earthly life. As I gaze at his photo on my desk, I recall the birthdays we celebrated together. My dad was aware of his impending passing for a year. Knowing what I know now about being a spouse and a parent, I can’t imagine how he was able to bear his last birthday. I find consolation in my faith regarding our lives after this life. Whatever my dad endured during his last months has since grown into an amazing existence which is worth every bit of the effort he expended here.

In spite of his new digs, my dad remains with me in many ways. He walked me through the difficult losses of my uncle and grandfather who lived with us. Daddy gave me reason to smile when he assured me that polio-stricken Uncle Gee would certainly walk straight and tall in heaven. Later, Daddy assured me that Grandpa wouldn’t need his cane to get around in heaven. My dad’s conviction in this regard eased me through his own death a few years later. Daddy also wisely told me that I was harder on myself than anyone else would ever be and that I was a very good girl. More importantly, my dad repeated these assertions in his demeanor toward me.

In honor of my dad’s birthday, I’m renewing my commitment to take his lessons to heart. Especially during this pandemic, it’s important for me to deal with the disappointments and losses of this life with my dad’s hope. While I do my best to make the most of this life, I’ll also do my best to remember that better things await us all. After all, God hasn’t done any more for my dad than God will do for each one of us when the time comes.

Generous God, thank you for my dad who did a great job of revealing your ongoing love and care to me.

©2020 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

God Never Gives Up On Us

God leads me in right paths…
From Psalm 23:3

When I consider the state of the world around me and of my own heart, I sometimes wonder why God bothers. Though God gifts humankind in ways more numerous than the grains of sand which cover this earth’s beaches, we manage to misuse our gifts in equally bountiful ways.

Fortunately for me, God takes note of my discouragement long before it morphs into something unmanageable. In the midst of my laments, images of kindnesses great and small distract my thinking. Moments in nature, in the company of those I love, at prayer and at peace with the tasks at hand compel me to utter words of thanks without much thought. While I remain baffled at this transition from discouragement to contentment, God leans back and admires this bit of Divine Handiwork.

As I consider Psalm 23 once again, I understand. God will never cease to lead us in right paths because it is in God’s nature to do so. When one loves as completely as God does, one never EVER gives up on the objects of that love!

Loving God, thank you for your ongoing encouragement in things great and small. Remind me never to give up on this world because you will never give up on a single one of us.

©2020 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Let Go of The Worry…

The law is spiritual,
whereas I am weak flesh…

From Romans 7:14

While perusing my closet the other day, I whispered a prayer of thanksgiving. Summer clothing I’d purchased a few years ago continues to fit. I’m not inclined to head out to shop these days and I don’t have much luck with online clothing purchases. So I was thrilled that my old wardrobe will work for another season. I offered that prayer because I know that I’ve found a few extra pounds while doing my part to battle the spread of COVID-19. It seems to me that this effort should have resulted in weight loss. In addition, my husband and I have taken an hour walk six or seven days each week since we’ve been staying home. Still, those five pounds continue to hang on.

If I’m honest, I must admit that it’s not the food I can’t resist. It’s the daily uncertainty and anxiety that I can’t seem to shake. My mom used to say, “It’s not what you’re eating; it’s what’s eating you!” I laugh as I type this and look upward to say, “Mom, you’re right again!” When I’m upset with the day’s news or the drudgery of our current routine, comfort food helps, but only for as long as it takes to chew it.

It is this realization that gives me reason to turn to the passage above from the apostle Paul’s Letter to the Romans. Miserable as we are these days, Paul had far more to deal with than we. Yet, in spite of this, his enthusiasm regarding his relationship with God never faltered. He simply admitted his weakness and then began anew again and again and again. It seems to me that this is the perfect opportunity for me to do the same. Though I probably won’t lose that those extra pounds, by calmly doing what I can to make things better I’ll gain the peace of mind God intends for us all.

Compassionate God, I place my worries in your hands where they will fade in the radiance of your love.

©2020 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Celebrate the Present? Yes!

It was a tough morning. I woke with a heavy heart. Just as we were all looking forward to easing out of our stay-in-place regimen, our ailing world was turned upside-down once again. One man’s brutal overreaction to an alleged misdeed robbed another man of his life. This time, that overreaction reached to our collective core. Once again, our lives were placed on lock-down. This time, rather than battling a virus, we battled injustice in an effort to find justice for all concerned. Once again, we found ourselves deeply troubled. Yes, it was a tough morning and my heart ached. As I crawled out of bed, I whispered, “Please, God, help me. Help us all.”

As I considered how next to address the Lord God, I grabbed one of the sources I frequently turn to for inspiration. YOU ARE THE BELOVED* is a book of daily reflections drawn from the writings of Henri J. M. Nouwen, a favorite author of mine. Because his words always touch me deeply, I opened that book to the day’s date in search of something I could hold onto. I read the title of that morning’s offering aloud: Celebrate in the Present. I quickly responded to myself, “Are you kidding me? The last thing I want to do today is celebrate!” With that, I almost closed the book without reading another word. I write almost because something –okay, Someone– encouraged me to take a second look. I’m most grateful that I did. Thank you, God!

Henri Nouwen’s words that day addressed the core of my dilemma that morning and of all of our heartache these days. When he asked that we celebrate in the present, Nouwen added that it is impossible to celebrate any given moment or event if we don’t fully embrace everything which that moment entails. He wrote that we can’t celebrate Christmas if nothing new is born out of Jesus’ birth. We can’t celebrate Easter if we don’t embrace the promise of new life that comes with it. We can’t celebrate Pentecost if God’s Spirit doesn’t continue to be alive and well among us. When he said to celebrate the present, Nouwen meant that we must be a living part of that present and we must deal with whatever challenges that present sets before us.

Though that passage from Henri Nouwen ended there, I had to consider what he might have written about today’s feast of The Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ. As I wondered, I shook my head with sadness. Those of us with pre-Vatican II roots recall that we once referred to this feast as Corpus Christi. We celebrated by honoring the Body and Blood of Christ in the Eucharist. Vatican II and many of our spiritual leaders since have reminded us that Jesus also challenged us to become his body and blood for one another, his most holy body and blood to be precise. I admit that I looked upward from my keyboard after writing that and said aloud, “I know. We’re not acting most holy these days.” Regardless of the externals that separate us -our politics, our tendencies to the left or to the right, our likes or dislikes, our upbringing, our social status, our sinfulness or our holiness, even the colors of our skin, we are called to be the body and blood of Jesus together and for one another.

I take my inspiration from Henri Nouwen and one other who inspires me even more so. The scriptures tell us that Jesus habitually shared himself with his contemporaries who were as diverse as we are. At his last supper with them, Jesus washed the feet of twelve very different, but beloved friends, even the friend who denied him and the friend who betrayed him. Jesus refused to distinguish between saints and sinners, women and men, slaves and free persons, Jews and Gentiles, the rich and the poor. Even prostitutes and tax collectors received his friendship. In each face, Jesus saw God’s handiwork. Jesus spent every ounce of his own body and blood caring for every one whom he met along the way with the hope of inspiring us to do the same. Ever since, Jesus has invited us over and over again to become his body and blood by caring for one another with the same unconditional love.

I woke with a headache and a heartache that morning with good reason. When I whispered, “Please, God, help me. Help us all,” I didn’t expect an immediate answer. Yet, it came. After I closed Nouwen’s book, I took a deep breath, looked upward and sighed. I couldn’t help smiling as I announced to my ever-patient God, “Yes, I’ll celebrate the present. I’ll embrace this heartbreaking, frustrating and frightening time. I’ll spend my body, my blood and my heart in service of those you give me to love.” So it is that I will celebrate the gift of Jesus’ body and blood by becoming Jesus’ body and blood and caring for my fellow humans as he did. I’ll begin by facing the injustice that plagues us today and doing something about it.

©2020 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

*Nouwen, Henri J. M. (2017), You Are The Beloved, p. 72. Convergent Books, Penguin Random House LLC.

Be A Peacemaker

Blessed are the peacemakers,
for they shall be called children of God.

Matthew 5:9

The other day, my husband and I tended to some gardening. While Mike fertilized, I swept piles of displaced soil into the appropriate flowerbeds. In the process, I noticed sprinkles of soil next to two planters on the patio. As I swept up that soil so I could replace it, I noticed a squirrel watching me from afar. “You little stinker!” I whispered. After all, I didn’t want to scare the poor thing. Still, as I swept, it occurred to me that I should have scared away my furry friend.

That squirrel was likely the culprit who’d displaced that dirt while digging around the begonias in our planters. After coming to this realization, I decided to engage Mr. Squirrel in conversation. “You know,” I said loudly enough to scare him, “You can dig up the entire yard if you want to. Just leave the flowers alone!” When I finally went into the house, that squirrel (or his twin brother) scampered up to the planters. I knocked on the patio door glass to remind him of my offer. I couldn’t help laughing as he ran off full speed ahead.

My husband and I will figure out a way to keep our squirrel friends out of our planters. In the mean time, we’ll continue to welcome them into the rest of the yard because they really are fun to watch. If only it was as easy to get along with our fellow humans!

God of Love, help us humans to find better ways to coexist with one another as well. When we do, I’m certain we’ll also be much more fun to watch.

©2020 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Love As God Loves

As a father loves his children,
so God loves us.

Psalm 103:13

Some years ago, I shared that I work hard at trusting in the goodness of humankind. I’m not foolish enough to believe that there are no evildoers among us. Still, I do believe that in the right circumstances most of us would choose to do good over evil fairly consistently. How I wish I could convince the powers that be that this is the case! Regardless of our ideological stances, we can all likely cite examples of those who agree with us and those who don’t who seem convinced of the opposite. Though this has been the case for a while, our suffering during this pandemic seems to have heightened our inability to get along.

So it is that I’m renewing my effort to trust in the goodness of humankind. I cannot claim credit for coming up with this approach. It is the result of everything I know about God. God loves each one of us and I think we repay this love best when we try to do the same.

Though we’ve been given many sources from which to garner our knowledge of God, I take the bulk of my knowledge from the life of Jesus. Jesus responded to those he met along the way with absolute love. He touched lepers to heal their bodies and their souls. He defended outcasts and shared meals with those others considered to be unclean. Jesus welcomed everyone he met along his way into his company. Jesus proved the be the consummate lover of humanity just like God who sent him to live among us. Jesus trusted in the goodness of humankind as God asked. Today, more than ever, I must do the same.

Loving God, be with me as I try to love as you do..

©2020 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved