Love’s Work

…love one another as I love you.
No one has greater love than this,
to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.”

From John 15:12-13

I admit to lots of anger over the suffering of those I’ve been given to love. Whether they are my own family members or children starving to death half a world away, I find it difficult to accept that there actually is nothing I can do to help. My frustration is amplified by my conviction that our problems can be solved if we consider them from a loving perspective. This isn’t a pie-in-the-sky impossibility. Years of work with some tough youngsters taught me otherwise. When I approached a troubled student with sincerity and genuine concern, he or she sensed this and responded in kind.

What a different world this would be if we set aside our own pride and our own agendas for the good of others. It seems to me that we amass a treasure trove of goodness for ourselves when we put others ahead of ourselves. What a different world this would be if we did lay down our lives for one another! What a different world this would be if we each accomplished one good deed -instead of the opposite- every day!

Loving God, you gift each of us with the ability to make this world a better place. Help us to realize our potential and to make our positive mark as only we can.

©2019 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

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Thanks for…

“God knows
what you need before you ask…”

From Matthew 6:8

The other day, I woke after a particularly restful night’s sleep. I was so grateful that I felt a strong urge to thank someone. At that moment, I realized that I’d somehow lost sight of what I used to say every morning: “Thanks for the sleep!” I always directed this comment to God above with genuine gratitude. This had been the case because, regardless of any given day’s events, I’d always managed to sleep restfully. Now I admit that this pattern of sleep took hold only after my children were old enough not to need me or to cause me to worry during the wee hours of the night. Very early on, I’d become accustomed to thanking God accordingly. That morning, I looked upward a bit sheepishly to echo the thanks which I’d somehow lost sight of. “Thanks for the sleep, good and generous God. I’m so sorry it has been so long…”

I didn’t continue because the line of light sneaking in where the blind and window frame don’t quite meet distracted me. Without another word, I got out of bed and walked over to that window. When I raised the blind, the bright sun, blue sky and greening foliage took my breath away. Without an audible word, God had assured me that it was indeed a new day. I could renew my resolve to express my gratitude and to be my best in whatever ways I chose to. With that, I looked upward once again. “Thanks for the sleep, ” I repeated. Then I added, “Thanks for the reminder that you’re always nearby…”

I’m happy to share that I’m back in the habit of expressing my morning gratitude and so much more these days.

Dear God, thank you!.

©2019 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

For Me?

The one who sent me is with me.
God has not left me alone…

John 8:29

I’ve been a little frustrated over being needed a bit too often as of late. This past Sunday morning, I set out for church with a weary heart. Indeed, I felt completely overwhelmed. As I drove, I decided to listen to a favorite CD which always lifts my spirits. When I attempted to sing along, I found that an irritated throat left me without my voice. “Great,” I moaned.

I like to sing. I can lift myself out of the dumps with just a line or two of the right song. When I arrived at church, I checked the music selections for that morning’s Mass. I quickly discovered that I didn’t know most of the hymns which we’d sing that day. Though my raspy throat kept me from joining in aloud, I was frustrated over not being able to mentally sing along. Much to my surprise, someone sat nearby who has a wonderful voice. With every new song, this fellow seemed to be singing just for me. Though I know this impression is inaccurate, this gentleman’s singing lifted me up just the same.

As Lent 2019 continues to unfold, I’ll listen carefully for those unexpected lyrics of encouragement which God sends for me in so many creative ways. At the same time, I’ll try to do this for those who rely upon me. Hopefully, I will let them know somehow that I’m singing, listening or simply being there just for them.

Loving God, Jesus couldn’t help stopping for the needy souls he met along the way. Help me to do the same.

©2019 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

On A Mission To Heal

Have you ever found yourself in the midst of a perfect storm? I’m not certain of how this evolves meteorologically. However, I can tell you that life’s circumstances sometimes collide just creatively enough to turn everything in their path topsy-turvy. Though it’s been some months since I experienced this phenomenon, I assure you that I’m annoyingly aware of the details of this encounter. At the time, I felt that I’d been wounded irreparably both spiritually and mentally. These circumstances took a physical toll as well as I actually lost my appetite! Though storms had threatened my peace of mind numerous times in the past, this was the first time they paralyzed me. I floated in limbo and functioned on autopilot. I didn’t hear people talking to me and I misplaced things I never lose. I forgot an important appointment and I almost ran out of gas. I held so tightly to my misery that I had no energy left to reach our for the healing opportunities which lingered around me.

Before you start to pray on my behalf (Though your prayers are always welcome!), please know that my perfect storm wasn’t strong enough to cause significant damage. It also failed to wash away the Persistent Presence which remained deep within me. Every time I let go of my misery to take a deep breath, that Presence whispered a thought or offered a nudge just strong enough to get my attention. Eventually, I heeded these overtures and took the hint to look beyond my pain. I turned to my favorite prayer (The Prayer of St. Francis, to be precise) for consolation. After repeating it for several days, I changed the first line from, “Lord, make me an instrument of your peace” to “Lord, I am an instrument of your peace.” I went on to assure God and myself that: Where there is hatred, I will sow love; where there is injury, I will pardon; when in doubt, I will have faith.” You get the idea. After making the most of my new prayer, I moved on to a musical favorite. Matt Wessel’s arrangement of Be With Me* never fails to inspire. For several days, I sang the lyrics as Matt wrote them: 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. Apparently, my persistence was well-placed because I eventually felt creative and energetic enough to take liberties with Matt’s lyrics as well. I sang my revised version often and loudly: You’re with me when I am in trouble. You’re with me when I am afraid. You’re with me when I am alone. You’re with me, Lord. You always stay! Finally, I embraced God’s loving presence within me and the healing which had patiently lingered around me took root.

I share all of this on the First Sunday of Lent because perfect storms threaten too often throughout each of our lives. For me, Lent 2019 provides an opportunity to reassess, regroup and refocus my efforts. This year in particular, I’m on a mission to dispel the storms around me and to bring healing to those effected as best I can. Each one of us is invited to do the same. God’s enduring presence within us will nudge us along and ignite that store of energy which we may have forgotten is there. With renewed spirits, we can look outside of ourselves to those who need healing most. We can turn to whatever resource we find inspiring to fuel us along the way. As for me, Jesus’ life among us does the trick. Before Jesus began his public ministry, he retreated to the desert for forty days. When he emerged from that time of intimacy with God, Jesus was ready to embrace whatever lay ahead. During the three years which followed, Jesus revealed God’s love and God’s concern though his healing efforts at every opportunity. Jesus invited all who would hear him, just as he invites you and me, to do the same. Don’t underestimate your healing abilities in this regard. My poor husband was certainty discouraged as he tried to help me to navigate that perfect storm a few months ago. Still, he hung in there all the while. When Mike let go of his uncertainty, he freed his arms to embrace me when I needed him most.

As Lent 2019 begins, my perfect storm has subsided and healing has taken root. Sadly, at the same time, loved ones near and far continue to cry out for God’s healing touch. Lonely hearts flirt with despair, while families endure economic uncertainty and unrest at their dinner tables. Addiction and intolerance overwhelm, while our political system succumbs to a desire for power rather than to its civic responsibilities. We who are God’s family continue to suffer the effects of abuse and cover-ups by a church hierarchy which was charged with healing this world as Jesus did. This is the reason it is so important that you and I bring healing wherever we find ourselves. The smallest effort in seemingly insignificant circumstances will make an important difference to someone. As I wrote above, don’t underestimate your healing abilities in this regard. You do make a difference to those around you as only you can. Just ask Mike! Don’t underestimate God’s healing abilities either. Whatever storms are brewing within you and around you, God remains to dispel the clouds, to still the waters and to comfort you. Trust me. When you let go of the pain and embrace God’s presence, healing will come!

*Copyright 2003 MWM; cited with Matt Wessel’s permission

©2019 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

K is for Kindness

People who are well do not need a doctor;
sick people do. I did not come to call the righteous,
but sinners.

Mark 2:17

K is for Kindness. Unexpected kindness is the most effective variety of this virtue. When I’m not at my best, a bit of TLC offered in my directions can salvage the moment at hand for all concerned. I became a recipient of random kindnesses early on in my life. When I woke my mom in the middle of the night with a childhood woe, she responded with patience and love. She returned me to my room and tucked me into my bed with a second good-night kiss. Thoughtful teachers responded to my occasional transgressions with understanding rather than anger. Their mercy encouraged me to be my best. When life became more complicated through my teens and into adulthood, I responded far more positively to a kind word than to a less-than-civil reprimand. The good news in all of this is that I took these lessons in kindness to heart. When I became a teacher and a parent, I found that my students and my own children responded best when kindness set the tone of our interactions.

You know, it’s easy to extend kindness to the people we like and to those who offer the same courtesy to us. Unfortunately, those whose names aren’t on our “A List” likely need our kindness most. We need only to look Jesus’ way to find examples of kindness offered indiscriminately which changed lives and this world forever.

Gracious God, thank you for giving us the capacity to respond to one another with kindness. Inspire us to do so, especially when it’s most difficult and most needed.

©2019 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

G is for God

For this is our God,
and we are the people God shepherds,
the flock which God guides.

Psalm 95:7

G is for God… and goodness, grace, generosity, gentleness, gift, gladness, glory, gospel, grandeur, gratitude, growth, gumption and a gaggle of other descriptors which apply to the God I have come to know and to love.

Regardless of the name you prefer or the context in which you worship, God is all of these things and more for you, for me and for every soul blessed with the gift of life. Whether we were raised down the street from our church as I was or were never exposed to anything remotely similar, God is for us.

For me, the evidence lies deep within. I’ve been aware of God’s presence in my life for as long as I can remember. If you’re searching for more concrete evidence, consider this. Numerous books have been published and countless other references have been cited in the distant and recent past regarding encounters with life after this life. Many have passed through death’s threshold and returned to share their experiences. Whether a believer, an agnostic or an atheist beforehand, these travelers to the Other Side speak of the unconditional love, peace and acceptance which greeted them. Most conclude with great certainty that they have met God.

Though most of us will never return from this journey, we are gifted with God’s loving presence in our lives today. For me, the implications are twofold. First, I must cultivate my relationship with God as this is the source of the greatest joy I know this life. Second, I must share the benefits of this relationship by cultivating my relationships with those God has given me to love. After all, the best gifts are those which we share.

Generous and Gracious God, thank you for you!

©2019 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved