I’ll Do My Part

Her neighbors and relatives heard
that the Lord had shown great mercy toward her,
and they rejoiced with her.

Luke 1:58

I admit that I’ve continued to worry quite a bit as of late. Though I consider myself to be a concerned member of our human family, I used to keep the world’s worries in perspective. Currently, it’s very difficult to do so. Every newscast brings more violence, injustice and inhumanity to light. It’s impossible to miss our need to change this world for the better. Not many of us have influence at the global level, I know. However, we can all make a difference in our little corners of the world.

As I consider how I might make a positive difference in the space I occupy, I look back to my teaching career. If I expected my students to interact peacefully, I had to model that behavior consistently. I couldn’t tell these children to speak kindly to one another if I freely corrected and embarrassed them with unnecessary harshness. My interactions with family, friends and neighbors are equally instructive. If I wish to live in harmony with those God has given me to love, I must make a positive contribution to the mix.

The truth is that our work in this regard is great. Whether we approach others with a positive attitude, give our time to the lonely or the needy, write letters to our legislators regarding the issues before us, or take a deep breath before we say something we will regret… Whatever we choose to do will make a difference.

Loving God, be with is as we tend to our small parcels of this world with compassion and love.

©2019 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

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Nestle In God’s Embrace

Every morning, I set the tone for the day by reading from a daily devotional. My favorite features dozens of writers. Each contributes six or seven of the reflections which appear throughout the book. Regardless of the author of the day, I’m consistently touched by the morsels of wisdom nestled among his or her words. Whether or not the story which unfolds appeals to me, the author’s intent always manages to touch my heart. Some mornings, I add favorite passages from Henri Nouwen and Max Lucado. I’m most grateful for their generosity in sharing their deeply personal relationships with God with the rest of us. As I struggle to do the same through my own book, my admiration for these writers continues to grow exponentially.

After I opened my devotional this morning, I returned to this writing. Because I completed my research yesterday, I planned to write all of this fairly quickly. That was until the pile of notes resting next to me spilled over onto my keyboard. I had to re-stack them before I could type another word. In the process, I found a small sticky note which read, “Nestle, Don’t Wrestle”. I laughed as I recalled this old phrase. Long ago, I’d read about someone who’d hoped to write a book about our struggles throughout this life and our propensity to ignore the precise solution to all of our problems. This woman intended to title the book, Nestle, Don’t Wrestle. She’d hoped that her text would convince all of the world that we must stop wrestling with God and insisting that God solve our problems our way. I laughed again as I admitted to myself that I’m guilty of just that.

Of course, I couldn’t let go of this concept of nestling in God’s care rather than wrestling alone with life’s challenges. I wondered if the person I’d read about had actually written her book. After searching online for some time, I realized that this potential author had likely not realized her dream. I found no books of that title anywhere. What I did find was Corrie ten Boom’s DON’T WRESTLE, JUST NESTLE* which was published long before the person I’d read about had voiced her dream. Still, the titles were so similar that I had to learn more. I discovered that Corrie ten Boom’s book is still available and that it can also be downloaded for free. I also found several short reviews which indicated that this book had indeed offered the same advice which that potential author had hoped to share years later. That advice? To take God at God’s word and to place our troubles into God’s capable hands. This frees us to embrace the moments at hand with hope. Corrie ten Boom and her family lived in The Netherlands. When the German Army invaded her country, she turned her home into a hideout where she protected many Jewish people. As a result, she and her family were arrested and imprisoned in a concentration camp where her sister died. In spite of this heart-wrenching experience, Corrie’s absolute hope in God’s care remained. As I read on, I discovered that Corrie’s relationship with God was steadfast throughout this suffering and her lifelong efforts to speak out about God’s love and forgiveness and our need to forgive.

So many scripture passages echo God’s invitation to us all to nestle and not to wrestle our way through this life alone! Isaiah (Isaiah 66:10-14c) tells us. “…you shall be carried in her arms, …as a mother comforts her child, so I will comfort you…” God promises to carry each one of us through everything. We mustn’t waste our energy wrestling with our problems alone. We mustn’t wrestle with God to convince God to do things our way. Rather, we must ease into God’s arms with all of our problems in tow. When we hand the things which trouble us over to God, we free ourselves to enjoy the peace that only God’s embrace can offer. In his letter to the Galatians (6:14-18), Paul expounds upon the peace he found when he opened himself up to Jesus. Paul had persecuted and killed hundreds of Jesus’ followers because they’d moved beyond The Law. The Law was part and parcel of their Jewish identity, yet many of the people had embraced the teachings of Jesus as well. After meeting Jesus himself in an astonishing post-resurrection encounter, Paul realized that our acknowledgement of God’s love for us and our need to love one another were what truly mattered. With that, Paul took in all that Jesus had taught and he made Jesus’ mission his own. Luke’s gospel (Luke 10:1-12, 17-20) tells us that Jesus had spread his teaching by sending out seventy-two disciples two-by-two. He asked them to set aside their own concerns and their own lives in order to share God’s hope and enduring love with those who hadn’t yet heard of these things. Jesus sent them on their way to offer God’s message with the hope that it would take root within others who would go on to share his word and to live accordingly.

As I consider my “on paper” acquaintance with both my would-be author friend and Corrie ten Boom, I wonder if they realize just how far-reaching their sharing of their relationships with God has been. Though that would-be author may never have written a word beyond her title, she certainly added a spark to my relationship with God. Corrie ten Boom endured far more suffering than most of us ever will, yet she insisted that we nestle in God’s loving care. Corrie added to that spark between God and me as well! It seems to me that we’re all called to spread the good news of God’s love for us. Whether we travel two-by-two or go it alone, each of us is invited to believe for ourselves and to share with all who will hear us that there is a place in God’s arms for every one of us.

©2019 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

*Corrie ten Boom. Don’t Wrestle, Just Nestle. Published January 1, 1979 by Fleming H Revell Co (first published 1978)

W… Write!

In the beginning was the Word;
the Word was in God’s presence,
and the Word was God.

John 1:1

W is for Write. Many more meaningful words begin with “w”. I’ve cited one above! Still, I chose “write” because this is what I’ve been called to do. In addition to these daily reflections, I’m writing a book. This project is very important to me because it chronicles my relationship with God throughout my life. Perhaps a reader or two will find that this topic has meaning for them as well.

Unfortunately, the writing process has proven to be grueling. I’m grateful that the inspiration has been plentiful and that the words flow freely. The WORD cited in the scripture verse above has been very generous in providing these things. However, I’ve been able to be productive for only an hour or two or three before being interrupted by what I call real life.

These incidences of real life occur with diligent frequency. Each is a worthy cause which certainly deserves my attention. Still, as I respond as best I can, I wonder about my book. I habitually look upward to ask, “Will I ever finish it?” Though I never hear a response, I somehow know that all will unfold in good time.

It occurs to me that I’m always writing something with my attitudes, with the things I say and with my actions. Though I’d like to leave something significant in written form, the truths I share through my daily life will be far more lasting. Just as no book store owner or librarian can predict which books patrons will pick up, I can’t predict who will read the things I write with every breath I take.

So it is that I write my life’s next chapter by tending to the tasks at hand with patience and love. I’ll get back to my manuscript later, too.

Loving God, mold us into words who write of your love as Jesus did.

©2019 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

The Body, Blood and Heart of Jesus

I’d been running most of the day. By mid-afternoon, I realized that I needed to sit for just a few minutes to relax and to regroup. My heart ached under the weight of a long list of woes which needed attention. People around me were suffering in varying degrees and there seemed to be little that I could do for any of them. Though I’d kept my promise to pray for each one, I felt the need to do more. So it was that I decided to share this bit of quiet time with The One who understood completely. Before voicing my petitions once again, I wondered, “How many more of God’s kids are suffering today?” My Friend from above didn’t need to respond. I already knew that God’s family teems with broken people.

“The human condition is tough,” I whispered to myself and to God above. As I contemplated this reality, a hymn we’d sung at church the previous Sunday came to mind. When I was a child, we sang Holy God, We Praise Thy Name often. I found comfort in Ignaz Franz’s Eighteenth Century lyrics because each verse acknowledges God’s greatness and that, indeed, God is in charge. Though it isn’t one of my favorites, this hymn truly touched me that day. In the midst of my worry, it helped me to focus upon God’s wonder and my smallness. I became less regretful regarding my inability to end the suffering around me because God is in charge and presenting God with all of these needs was the most productive thing I could do at the moment.

After arriving at that bit of wisdom, I recalled how I’ve relied upon Matt Wessel’s Be With Me to lift my spirits over the past several months: “Be with me when I am in trouble. Be with me when I am afraid. Be with me when I am alone. Be with me, Lord, I pray.” Years ago, these words filled my car every time I drove from Gurnee to Glenview to visit my dying mom. They were the mantra which carried me through my sister’s passing as well. Matt’s lyrics touch me deeply because they dare to be as familiar with our God as Jesus invited us to be. Just as our children ask Daddy or Mommy to linger a bit longer at their bedsides while they travel off to Dreamland, we ask God, our loving parent, to linger with us through tough and frightening times. What is most consoling is that we needn’t end our prayer with “Be with me.” Matt’s lyrics urge us on to invite God to remain with us for the long haul: “Stand beside me; walk beside me; give me comfort; make me stronger, and raise me higher.”

Before returning to all I had to do that day, I considered one more favorite. On Eagle’s Wings has been sung at almost every funeral I’ve attended for the past several decades. “Perhaps I won’t cry if I sing the words to myself,” I thought. So it was that I quietly voiced Michael Joncas’ lyrics to myself and to God above. The thought of soaring toward the sky on an eagle and then nestling into the palm of God’s hand assured me that my prayers were well-placed. With that and a full measure of peace in my heart, I took a deep breath and embraced the remainder of the day.

Though some of those for whom I prayed that day aren’t yet out of the woods, it is with a lighter heart that I celebrate today’s feast of the Body and Blood of Christ. Though Jesus’ contemporaries didn’t have these familiar hymns in which to find comfort, Jesus gave them far more tangible means to do so. Jesus offered the gift of himself through every moment of every day he walked among them. Though we celebrate The Body and Blood of Jesus, today’s gospel isn’t a Last Supper narrative. Rather, Luke’s gospel (9:11-17) recounts the miracle of the loaves and fishes. While the disciples missed the significance of what occurred, early Christians came to appreciate the meaning of Jesus’ blessing, breaking and sharing of that bread and fish. Offering nourishment to the hungry provided a poignant example of God’s call for us to do the same. Jesus echoed that call through the meals he shared with outcasts of every sort. Jesus echoed that call when he healed the leper, the blind man and the Roman’s Centurion’s servant. Jesus echoed that call in parables like The Prodigal Son which revealed God’s unlimited love for us and our amazing capacity to love one other. Jesus echoed that call in every look, touch and in every accepting and healing embrace. When we celebrate The Body and Blood of Jesus, we celebrate this Jesus who gave his body, his blood and his loving heart in service to us all.

On this very special day, we consider the way of life with which Jesus of Nazareth changed the world. Just as Jesus encouraged his contemporaries to do, Jesus urges you and me spend ourselves, our bodies, our blood and our own loving hearts, in service of those we’ve been given to love. While we cherish the gift of Jesus in the Eucharist, Jesus invites us to share this gift through our relationships with one another as well. Those wonderful hymns reminded me that Jesus shared his body and blood every time he responded to the needs of others. Jesus asks only that we try to do the same. When we do, we will transform this world and relieve the suffering of God’s family as only we can. We will truly partake of Jesus’ body and blood and Jesus’ loving heart, one act of kindness at a time.

©2019 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Holy God, We Praise Thy Name, text by Ignaz Franz 1719-1790; translated by Clarence Walworth 1820-1900

Be With Me, text and music by Matt Wessel. ©2003 Matt Wessel

On Eagle’s Wings, Text and music by Michael Joncas, text based upon Psalm 91. Text and music ©1979, OCP.

M… Mercy!

…his father caught sight of him and was deeply moved.
He ran out to meet him,
threw his arms around his neck, and kissed him.

Luke 15:20

M is for Mercy. God’s merciful love is the source of all of our hope. Of all of the characteristics Jesus exhibited, I find mercy to be the most powerful. Jesus taught mercy masterfully in his interactions with others. Then, he underscored those lessons with the mercy he extended to all, especially the isolated souls disdained by everyone else. To insure that we appreciated his every word and deed in this regard, Jesus offered the unforgettable Parable of the Prodigal Son. If any of us question our ability to be lovingly and mercifully forgiven, this story dispels all doubt.

In Jesus’ community, a request for an early inheritance insulted a parent gravely. The offending child essentially demanded, “Behave as though you are dead so I can have my money.” According to the parable, in spite of his son’s selfishness and disregard for his feelings, that father gave his son what he asked. The son responded by leaving town and squandering every cent. The young man had reached rock bottom when he eventually found work tending swine. In the end, he realized his wrong-doing and returned home to beg his father to allow him to work as a servant. As Luke’s passage tells us, this father would have none of it. At the sight of his son, mercy and love filled up the man who embraced his wayward child to welcome him home.

God promises the same reception to you and to me no matter what!

Merciful God, thank you!

©2019 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Dance to The Spirit’s Music!

May and June have proven to be very busy. My husband and I have or will be involved with an assortment of baptisms, graduations, birthday celebrations and weddings. We celebrated Mother’s Day and we happily look forward to Father’s Day. In the end, an amazing assortment of God’s children will have gathered at each of these events. More importantly, an amazing exhibition of God’s Loving Spirit among us will have unfolded as well. Though taken alone these events may seem to be commonplace, each is extraordinary in some way. A few weeks ago, one particular happening proved extraordinary in the most unexpected and amazing ways…

When a good friend approached his fiftieth birthday, his wife and children decided that this milestone called for a party. Their dear husband and dad had recently completed some extremely demanding training and he’d had a bit of a health-scare. To celebrate his successful outcomes in both areas, our friend’s family organized a gathering in his honor. My dear husband and I had the good fortune to be included. When the day arrived, the weather was uncharacteristically cooperative, so Mike and I spent the entire morning and afternoon working outdoors. Tired as we were afterward, we set aside our work to join our friends for what proved to be a truly enjoyable evening. When we arrived, the entire family warmly welcomed us in. After greeting the other guests, we settled in for lots of pleasant conversation and a delicious meal. It was shortly afterward that another friend pulled me aside and pointed out the karaoke machine. “What?” I asked. “Are we going to use it?” My friend assured me that the machine wouldn’t have a moment’s rest that evening. As the party continued, nothing proved to be more true than that observation…

Before I continue, I assure you that I know what karaoke is, that I love to sing and that I love to dance. I also admit that I’ve never used a karaoke machine, I’m a mediocre singer and I’m a terrible dancer. Before your imaginations enter high gear, I assure you that I drank very little, if anything, which might have inspired my participation that evening. Having said all of that, I also admit to having joined in singing and dancing to almost every song that was played for three hours. The best part of all of this is that the other guests did the same. They assured me that participating with abandon was the best way to unwind, to rejoice and to celebrate the moments at hand; yes, each and every one of those moments at hand. All the while, we joined as one to cheer on the-holder-of-the-microphone, all who served as his or her chorus and all who danced. As for me, a sense of joy and belonging and the absolute freedom to be me filled me up. I determined in short order that this was the best party I’d attended in my entire life.

My revelry culminated in my dear husband’s willingness to lead the singing of Mr. Bojangles. This 1968 release (Jerry Jeff Walker, 1968, Atco Records) has been a favorite since I first heard it. As Mike sang, I couldn’t help dancing as the story of the drifter-turned-dancer unfolded. When Mike sang about the poor man’s dog dying, I shed a few tears and touched my heart. When Mike sang, “Whoa, he jumped so high, clicked his heels…”, I couldn’t help myself. Though I’d never ever dared to do this before, something compelled me to click my heels as well. And so I did. I honestly didn’t realize the amazement of my feat until this roomful of friends gasped and then cheered in delight. Much to my surprise, I did the same twice more before Mike finished that song…

I share this story on Pentecost Sunday with good reason. I admit that, in spite of my productive day, I went to that party with a heavy heart. Old worries had resurfaced and I wondered if I’d be able to set them aside long enough to celebrate our friend’s birthday. As you see, my fear was unfounded. The loving spirit of those gathered that evening not only dispelled the negativity which threatened, but also filled me with absolute joy! You know, Jesus’ friends awaited the first Pentecost with far greater trepidation than my own. They’d arrived at Jerusalem in triumph only to have Jesus arrested and condemned five days later. Most of Jesus’ friends deserted him as he hanged dying on the cross. Those who remained could do nothing to save him. When Jesus rose and appeared among them, he remained for forty days. All the while, hope eased its way back into the disciples’ hearts until Jesus left them once again. Jesus’ parting words included a call to proclaim the good news to every creature and a promise that Jesus would always be with them. Still, when Jesus left, hope escaped his friends once again and the disciples hid themselves away from the people. It was in the midst of wringing their hands and wondering how they might survive this second loss of Jesus that God’s Loving Spirit filled them up. Finally, the disciples understood. Finally, Jesus’ message made sense of this life and the next. With that, the disciples burst out of hiding to proclaim their good news to all who would listen. God’s Loving Spirit propelled them just as it propels us forward again and again.

You know, I’ll never forget that wonderful birthday gathering. The loving spirit which permeated my friend’s home gifted everyone present with a mini-Pentecost of sorts. I think each one of us had a part in sweetening the joy of that evening and in fueling all of our hope in the reality of good things to come. Though life isn’t perfect for any of us, God’s love for us is perfect. And this is all that matters. On this Pentecost and every day after, may each of us sense God’s Loving Spirit within us and find reason to click our heals and to dance once again.

©2019 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved