Always Encouraged and Always Loved

The seeds on good ground are those who
hear the word in a spirit of openness,
retain it, and bear fruit through perseverance.

Luke 8:15

I’m coming to the end of my journal of our trip to Israel. Unfortunately, I didn’t fill that journal as much as I might have this time around. I knew this would likely be my last visit to Jesus’ homeland. As a result, I invested far more time in looking than I invested in writing. So it is that I’m struggling a bit regarding what to share next…

To clear my head, I decided to take a walk. I left my cluttered desk and grabbed my coat and gloves. I even wore a hat. As I made my way in the cold along our neighborhood’s deserted streets, I treated myself to a few moments of inspiration. As I ambled along, the clouds parted for a few seconds and I felt the sun’s warmth on my shoulders. I thoroughly enjoyed this much-needed hug. “You are so good, Dear God!” I said to myself. “You offer consolation everywhere, even here in Gurnee!”

As I basked in the sunshine, my thoughts returned to Israel and to the many unexpected encounters with Jesus which occurred there. Though I realized I was in The Holy Land, I didn’t expect that “holiness” to be tangible. Yet it was. At every turn, I caught glimpses of Jesus’ life and that of his closest friends. Since childhood, I’ve tried to imagine the realities of Jesus’ time among us. My encounter with Jesus’ homeland brought that reality into focus.

With that thought, I headed home to write this for you…

Persistent God, thank you for your encouragement which finds us wherever we are and in the midst of whatever we’re facing in the moment at hand.

©2020 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Holy Land, Indeed!

Jesus left the temple precincts then,
and his disciples came up and pointed out
to him the buildings of the temple area…

Matthew 24:1

While in Israel, we traveled from place to place on a coach bus. I appreciated the large windows which allowed me to take in everything we passed along the way. Throughout these “between site” rides, our guide often provided additional commentary regarding the sites we’d just left, the places we approached and modern-day life in Israel. I appreciated all of this as Yossi is a fountain of rich information which he shared with generosity and great passion.

Though I carried a small journal with me throughout each of our trips, I wrote very little in it this time around. I found it more difficult than ever to put my feelings about the sights and sounds and people around me into words. I found it exponentially more difficult to express the deep connection I felt with them all. Before I realized what had happened, my trip to “Israel” had become my trip to the “Holy Land”. All that I learned about this place, whether of a religious or a secular nature, revealed some aspect of Jesus, his people and the God whom Jesus revealed to us.

Knowing how deeply this experience has effected me, I can only imagine what it was like to encounter Jesus in the flesh. Perhaps I have…

Loving God, thank you for allowing me to see your face in the sights and sounds and people of that precious place.

©2020 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

A History Lesson

Remember not against us the iniquities of the past;
may your compassion quickly come to us…

From Psalm 79:8

A recent gathering reminded me of just how much I’ve forgotten. When a family member reminded me of a childhood incident which she thought had devastated me, I was hard-pressed to recall what had actually happened. Fortunately for me, I usually let these things go. The scar left by this particular injury faded into nothingness long ago.

I admit that there are a very few unpleasant memories which remain close to the surface. Though I never dwell on them, they do induce goosebumps or a queasy stomach if I give them the time of day. I never choose to think about these things. Still, a single word sometimes evokes memories which I cannot control. At times such as these, I take a deep breath and look upward. It helps to know that God knows my pain even better than I do.

We all add to our personal histories with every breath we take. This is no problem when joy accompanies those breaths. Unfortunately, the realities of this life include both good and bad events. It seems to me that the best we can do is to learn from them all. When someone or something hurts us, we try never to impose the same pain on others. When something brings us joy, we find ways to bring similar joy to those we have been given to love.

Loving God, thank you for walking with us as we make history with one another as best we can.

©2019 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Powerful Words

I turned our calendar to March to confirm the date of Ash Wednesday. I also noted that we won’t celebrate Easter until April 21. I used my words to offer a prayer of gratitude. Easter’s relatively late arrival allows me the time to catch my breath before tackling my abundant to-do list. In an effort to shorten that list, I read the scripture passages we hear today to prepare for this writing. As I read, I found that Sirach and Jesus (Sirach 27:4-7; Luke 6:39-45) had a good deal to say about the power of our words. Paul (1 Corinthians 15:54-58) chimed in to address the disbelief of some who questioned Jesus’ words. As I read, it occurred to me that I’ve put my own words to use in surprising ways over the decades. Though I hope my words have been positive for the most part, there have been times when their tone has been just the opposite. It was Lent 1987 when I expressed my dismay to God regarding Easter’s late arrival that year…

My stepdad had battled emphysema for some time and the disease finally threatened to get the best of him. Bill had become bedridden and my mom was heartsick. Caring for Bill at home would be impossible if he couldn’t walk. Though she was both a sturdy woman and a great nurse, my mom still couldn’t manage Bill’s six-foot frame without some assistance from him. Bill was heartsick as well. If he couldn’t go home with my mom, he wanted to go home to God. Bill didn’t use his words to express this. He simply stopped eating. He also kept his eyes closed except to glance lovingly at my mom when he thought no one was looking. I was heartsick, too. So it was that I repeated the same insistent prayer: Bill’s had a tough time. He’s suffered enough. Dear God, please take him home. My mom took great care of my own dad, and now she’s doing the same for my step-dad. You’re asking too much of her. Dear God, please take him home. Jesus cured the suffering who came to him. I don’t even want a cure. Just take him home! When my desperation hit its peak, I shamelessly added: You claim to be our loving parent. If Bill was my son, I’d take him home for Easter!

Lent 1987 seemed to drag on and on. Time always passes at a snail’s pace when our loved ones are suffering. I admit that I used the words of my mournful prayer over and over again throughout the majority of those forty days. As it happened, we celebrated my stepdad’s funeral the Tuesday before Easter. Later that week, I completed Lent 1987 by attending the Holy Week liturgies at our parish church. I missed most of what unfolded because I’d morphed from a weary and worried daughter into a weary and numb mourner. I didn’t use my words for much of anything after Bill’s funeral. It was during the Easter Vigil on Holy Saturday that I realized I’d been operating on autopilot. I felt exhausted and empty and I wasn’t sure of where to turn. As the deacon sang the Exultet to announce Jesus’ resurrection, something drew my eyes to the large crucifix over the altar. It had been covered with a purple cloth during Lent and I wondered why that purple remained. Suddenly, in the midst of an alleluia, the servers pulled some invisible wires which hung from the cloth. When that cloth fell, it revealed the most beautiful lilies I’d ever seen. Those lovely flowers covered the crucifix from top to bottom and from left to right. Their ivory blossoms glowed in the brightly lit sanctuary, leaving no hint of the suffering corpus hidden behind them. This amazing image took my breath away. Though I thought I couldn’t shed another tear that week, my eyes filled up. I felt alive again! Then it hit me. God had welcomed my stepdad home for Easter. Bill had been gone an entire week and I’d failed to use my words to say “Thank you!” Still, God welcomed me home as well. In spite of my ingratitude and my insolent tone beforehand, God gave me new life in the form of some well-placed Easter lilies. Those flowers spoke of renewed life to me and I couldn’t have asked for more!

Lent 2019 begins this week on Ash Wednesday. This year, we’re invited to use our words to help ourselves and those we’ve been given to love throughout our Lenten Mission. The words I chose to address our loving God on my stepdad’s behalf were clumsy at best. Still, they expressed my genuine effort to walk through my stepdad’s illness and passing in God’s good company. My words were also heard. God hears everything we say or think or feel or write. This is the reason our parish is providing us a little blue booklet entitled MY LENTEN MISSION. It is meant to guide all of us who’d like to use our words to find healing for ourselves, for one another and for our suffering world. We each approach Lent 2019 with a unique variety of burdens. As we deal with these things, we also search for ways to be productive family members, friends, coworkers, caretakers and to fulfill a multitude of other roles. Our mission booklets provide daily excerpts from the Lenten gospels and one or two related reflection questions. There is space to use our words to respond. Afterward, healing activities are suggested. The best part is that this booklet isn’t a homework assignment which will be graded on Easter Sunday. Rather, it is one small, but mighty tool which will hopefully guide each one of us on our mission toward a truly peace-filled Easter and a truly healed heart.

Though Lent 1987 remains etched in my memory, the words those Easter Lilies spoke to me are etched into my heart. My prayers have never again been quite so desperate because I’ve allowed God’s words to draw me closer, just as those lilies did. Perhaps Lent 2019 will reveal the healing we’re all searching for. Perhaps the lilies of Easter 2019 will speak words of new life to us all. Can any of us ask for more?

©2019 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

For those of you who don’t attend my church and won’t receive MY LENTEN MISSION, I encourage you take some time every day to communicate with God as only you can. The words exchanged between you and God are far more powerful than you’ll ever know in this life! Have lots of good talks with God!

Hallowed Ground

When Jesus finished instructing his twelve disciples,
he left that locality to teach in their towns..

Matthew 11:1

While in Israel, we traveled from place to place on a coach bus. I am most grateful for Yani, our endearing and enduring bus driver, who delivered us safely to our numerous destinations. Yani’s careful driving freed me to appreciate the large windows which allowed me to take in everything we passed along the way. Throughout these “between site” rides, our guide also enhanced our travels. Yossi used this time to provide additional commentary regarding the sites we’d just left, the places we approached and modern-day life in Israel. I appreciated this as Yossi is a fountain of rich information which he shares with generosity and great passion.

I carried a small journal with me throughout this trip just as I had during our first trip. Last year, I managed to scribble only a few notes on four pages of that little notebook. This year, my improved note-taking netted several more pages. Still, I found it difficult to put my feelings about the sights and sounds and people around me into words. I found it exponentially more difficult to express the deep connection I felt with them all. Before I realized what had happened, this second trip to “Israel” had become a second trip to the “Holy Land”. This place has come to mean a great deal to me. All that I learned about Israel, whether of a religious or a secular nature, revealed an aspect of Jesus, his people and the God whom Jesus revealed to us all. Of course it is holy land!

Knowing how deeply this experience has affected me, I can only imagine what it was like to encounter Jesus in the flesh. Perhaps I have…

Generous God, thank you for allowing me to see your face in the sights, sounds and people of that precious place.

©2018 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Truly Holy Land

Whatever you have done
to the very least of my people,
you have done to me.

Matthew 25:40

While in Israel, we traveled from place to place on a coach bus. I appreciated the large windows which allowed me to take in everything we passed along the way. Throughout these “between site” rides, our guide often provided additional commentary regarding the sites we’d just left, the places we approached and modern-day life in Israel. I appreciated all of this as Yossi is a fountain of rich information which he shared with generosity and great passion.

Though I carried a small journal with me throughout this trip, I wrote very little in it. I found it difficult to put my feelings about the sights and sounds and people around me into words. I found it exponentially more difficult to express the deep connection I felt with them all. Before I realized what had happened, my trip to “Israel” had become my trip to the “Holy Land”. All that I learned about this place, whether of a religious or a secular nature, revealed some aspect of Jesus, his people and the God whom Jesus revealed to us.

Knowing how deeply this experience has effected me, I can only imagine what it was like to encounter Jesus in the flesh. Perhaps I have…

Loving God, thank you for allowing me to see your face in the sights and sounds and people of that precious place.

©2017 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved