God’s Sympathetic Ear

“You may go; your son will live.”
The man believed what Jesus said to him and left
.
John 4:50

It’s taken me a lifetime to imitate the man about whom John wrote the words above. I’m sorry to admit that I succeed only some of the time. This man was a royal official, likely quite used to having his every need met without question. At the time, the man’s child lay dying. He’d likely tapped every resource at his disposal to find a cure. Still, in spite of his position, he could do nothing to save his son. In desperation, the man turned to Jesus for help. Something he’d heard convinced him to do so. When Jesus instructed him to go home because his son was recovering, the man believed Jesus and went home. He was not disappointed.

I can’t be sure of what this royal official learned about Jesus before he approached him for help. However, I’m quite certain that he knew only the tiniest fraction of what we’ve learned in the two millenniums since. Still, in the face of two thousand-plus years of proof of God’s love for us in more than a billion lifetimes, there are times when I doubt.

The better news is that, when I come to my senses, I understand and I’m at peace. Though the man who sought Jesus’ help expected results, I most often expect only a sympathetic ear. Knowing that God understands my troubles makes them manageable. Knowing that God understands my troubles gives me the courage to carry on.

Compassionate God, help us to simply believe and be on our way.

©2019 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

God Always Responds… ALWAYS!

A few weeks ago, Grandpa and I visited the Chicago Botanic Garden with our daughter-in-law and grandsons. As soon as three-year-old Danny returned from preschool that day, we put on our warm coats, packed the car and drove off to Highland Park. When we arrived, Baby Ben nuzzled in the cuddly carrier which Kim had donned for the occasion. We made our way to the outdoor railroad exhibit, a quaint wonderland featuring eighteen model trains which chug along a maze of tracks. Each one snakes its way around beautifully carved wooden replicas of familiar sites such as The Lincoln Memorial and Wrigley Field, Mount St. Helen’s and a Napa Valley vineyard. Though we’d enjoyed the exhibit earlier this past summer, we returned to allow Danny another glimpse of his favorite things: TRAINS!

As we ambled into the exhibit, I noted Danny’s excitement and his extremely cooperative demeanor. Danny remembered our last visit and he seemed determined not to allow anything to prevent him from spending as much time as possible with his beloved trains that day. As it happened, we traced and retraced our steps through the exhibit for two wonderful hours. In the end, Danny’s hunger got the best of him and he happily joined us for the walk to the car. The promise of a hot dog from a favorite local eatery quickly sealed the deal!

As Mike drove to the restaurant, I listened to the chatter in the backseat between Kim and her little boys. Because Ben had awakened during the transfer from baby carrier to car seat, Kim attended to both simultaneously. I smiled as she cooed at Ben while also reading to Danny. Our grandsons seemed quite satisfied with Mommy’s ability to multi-task. When we arrived at the restaurant, Kim toted Ben in his car carrier and Grandpa took Danny’s hand. We ordered that precious hot dog for Danny, another for Grandpa and a salad and wrap for Kim and me. While we waited, Danny once again assumed his sweetest demeanor to coax Mommy into allowing Grandpa to show him the video games and candy machines hidden in a nearby nook. Don’t worry. No purchases were made. Just looking at that amazing array kept Danny’s attention until the smell of that hot dog drew him back to our table.

As we ate, I watched as Danny negotiated with Mommy regarding his lunch. Though he really wanted that wonderful hot dog, he seemed to want the French fries that accompanied it even more. So it was that Danny talked his way into being allowed two fries between each bite of hot dog until both were gone. In the mean time, Ben howled. While she explained the lunch rules to Danny, Kim nuzzled Ben under her cover-up and into position for his lunch. All the while, Kim also managed to enjoy her salad and to converse with Mike and me. I smiled to myself as I recalled similar days with our own sons. As hectic as life proved to be much of the time, Mike and I would do it all again for them. I’m certain Kim and our son Tim feel the same way.

I share this adventure with you because it seems to get the core of today’s passage from Mark’s gospel (Mark 10:46-52). Mark tells us that Jesus and his disciples had just left Jericho amidst a sizable crowd. In spite of the circus around Jesus, Bartimaeus who had been born blind called out, fully expecting Jesus to hear him. Those with Jesus seemed oblivious to the poor man’s plight. They told him to be quiet, perhaps in an effort to keep Jesus from being bothered. Still, Bartimaeus persisted. When Jesus heard him, he asked the others to bring him forward. When Jesus asked what he wanted, Bartimaeus responded, “Master, I want to see.” Jesus responded immediately.

Bartimaeus’ faith in Jesus’ love for him touches me. As I consider his story, my grandsons come to mind. Older brother Danny shares Bartimaeus’ faith. When something is really important to him, Danny knows he can turn to his Mommy and Daddy without risk of disappointment. Though Danny’s every whim isn’t fulfilled, his parents provide him all that is necessary and so much more, like that trip to the railroad exhibit. Ben is only three months old, yet he’s already learned the same. Though his requests often come through tears of hunger rather than sweetly engineered negotiations, Ben’s needs are also fulfilled in generously loving fashion.

God does the same for each of us. Recently, Meg prayed, seemingly without avail, for a measure of peace in a very important area of her life. I listened and I prayed with her, also seemingly without result. Meg’s cause was desperate and reached to the core of her being. Hopeless as her plight seemed, she prayed with all of her might. So did I. We prayed in unison and alone for some time. Then, in a single day, in the midst of seemingly mindless kindness at the hands of a few friends, everything changed. Joy replaced Meg’s despair; confidence replaced her uncertainty; a bright future replaced the dark days which threatened. In that cluster of what seemed to be unremarkable moments, God responded. Just as Jesus responded to Bartimaeus, just and Kim and Tim respond to Danny and Ben, just as Mike and I respond to our sons, God responds to you and me… ALWAYS!

©2018 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Look with God’s Eyes

Last weekend, my parents would have celebrated their seventy-third wedding anniversary. For numerous reasons, I find myself anxious to celebrate on their behalf. After all, my life is what it is as a result of my parents’ influence…

My mom worked at the Sears catalog warehouse when I was a little girl. This began as an annual part-time arrangement several weeks before Christmas and a few weeks afterward. My mom did this to ensure her family a “nice” Christmas. My dad worked as an assistant railroad yardmaster year-round. He did so to provide his wife and children a “nice” life. Both of these efforts tested my parents’ stamina and creativity. While they met this challenge admirably, creating a loving home for my siblings and me was the best part of what they did together.

Our home was actually a modest three-bedroom flat which housed my uncle and grandfather as well. In spite of our cramped quarters, the door remained open to family and friends. When our household shrank due to our grandfather’s and then our uncle’s passing, Daddy consoled us with talk of heaven and their renewed health. We had no choice except to be happy about the newfound joy both men experienced. When Daddy passed away, our mom repeated his message with deep conviction. Though she went to work full-time and our tight family budget tightened a bit more, my mother preserved the love in our home in full earnest.

My life would be very different if my parents’ positive perspective had been the opposite. A few years into my own marriage, I wondered what inspired the great faith which empowered my parents to smile and to remain optimistic through even the greatest tragedies. I asked my mom what she and my dad did when they discovered his illness and his prognosis of only a year more to live. Without hesitation, Mom answered, “We lived it to the full!” My dad continued to work for as long as possible and my mom did everything else. She helped my dad to conserve his energy so he could enjoy as many of that year-full of days as possible. It was a few days into his last hospital stay when we almost lost him during the night. When our mom arrived the next morning, Daddy told her what had happened. In a gesture of generosity which I may never be able to repeat, my mom reminded my dad of the consolation he offered when our grandfather and uncle passed away. She went on to ask him why he worried. God would take care of us in his absence. Though the ache in her heart intensified with every word, Mom went on to give her thirty-nine-year-old husband permission to let go. During the night that followed, he did.

As I read today’s gospel (Mark 10:46-52), the perceptiveness of the blind man overwhelmed me. Though his eyes could not see, the man knew that Jesus was near. The blind man’s uncanny perspective reminds me of my parents’ vision. Though his physical vision was non-existent, this man saw more clearly than the rest of Jesus’ followers. This man who was blind clearly saw what Jesus offered. Mark wrote, “…he kept calling out all the more, ‘Son of David, have pity on me.’” Hearing him, Jesus rewarded the blind man’s faith by asking him what he wanted. The blind man responded, “Master, I want to see.” Jesus sent the man off with his wish fulfilled. Yet, rather than leaving, the man followed Jesus. His choice to do so touches my heart. The blind man’s life had been terribly difficult. He could have allowed his circumstances to destroy his hope and to turn his heart to anger and self-pity. Man of hope that he was, he didn’t allow this to happen. Though unable to see the physical world around him, this man saw that life is worth living. When Jesus arrived, this man saw Jesus’ message unfold before him. The blind man saw Jesus so clearly that he was convinced Jesus would take care of everything. It was this hopeful vision and not his newfound sight which caused this man to follow his Lord.

My parents’ vision allowed them to be happy in spite of the many tragedies which touched their lives. Like the blind man in today’s gospel, they chose to see things as God sees them. As I worked through my worry over our little grandson’s premature birth, I came to understand and to appreciate my parents’ vision and that of the blind man more fully. Today, you and I are invited to do as my parents did: To see God’s gifts as the man born blind saw them; to seize every opportunity to embrace this life; to look beyond the fear, the sadness and the sorrow that threaten. Today, God invites us to adjust our vision in order to see the joy that is the center of everything. Today, we open our eyes to God’s persistent and unconditional love.

©2015 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved