Worth The Effort

As for you, every hair of your head has been counted;
so do not be afraid of anything.

Matthew 10:30

A recent gathering with extended family allowed me to watch as my nieces and nephews interacted. Their good-hearted banter brought to mind my sister and brother who celebrate with us from the hereafter these days. Before it could be detected, I dabbed an unexpected tear from my cheek. Perhaps my recent reflections regarding the things to come have come full circle. When I returned home afterward, I strolled to our wall of family photos. I smiled at the images of my brother and sister, my parents, grandparents and many others. All the while, I consoled myself with the certainty that they’re all just fine in their new home with God.

My certainty regarding the things to come began with my mom and dad. Later in college, I encountered the work of Elisabeth Kübler-Ross who pioneered near-death experience studies. Her research regarding life after this life underscored what my faith had already convinced me was true. Throughout the decades since, many medical professionals have added to her research. More recently, two physicians (Dr. Eben Alexander and Dr. Mary C. Neal) who’ve had near-death experiences themselves have added to this wisdom.

I don’t mean to repeat myself in these daily posts. However, sometimes a topic is so important to me and to all of us that I’m compelled to do so. With that, I encourage you to do the best you can to live a happy, generous and productive life. I also encourage you to remember that you are never ever alone and that all you do is worth the effort.

Loving God, help us to remember that you are with us in everything always.

©2018 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

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We NEVER Walk Alone!

A few weeks ago, I finished my umpteenth reading of a favorite book which addresses the afterlife and our own struggles as we make our way there. As I closed the familiar volume, I wondered if the author had written anything more recently. When I entered his name online, images appeared of my now-ragged paperback and two additional titles. I immediately announced to my poor husband that we should expect a package in the next few days as I was ordering both new books and two extra copies of my favorite. Since my copy is no longer suitable to share, I need these extra copies to lend to interested friends. After placing that order, I went to the fullest and most frequently visited shelf of my bookcase. Though I’d intended to purge my collection to make room for my newly discovered prizes, I realized that I couldn’t part with any of my books.

I’ve been a student of death and dying since childhood. By the time I was nine years old, my uncle, both grandfathers and my dad had passed away. My remaining family members responded to these losses with absolute faith in our loved ones’ newfound heavenly bliss and I fully believed them in this regard. Still, when I began college and discovered that there were sources other than the Bible and catechisms to be found which address death and life after death, I immediately enrolled in a class which explored these topics. One of our required textbooks was written by Dr. Elizabeth Kubler-Ross, a medical pioneer who defined the stages of dying as she cared for her terminal patients. Dr. Kubler-Ross is also likely the first medical doctor to admit publicly that she believed her patients’ seemingly incredible stories regarding their near-death experiences and the hereafter. It’s safe to say that I’ve read almost every book written on these topics since. I admit that, when given the chance, I can speak ad infinitum regarding all of this. When asked why I’m so interested in these things, I consistently answer from my heart: “They remind me that this life is do-able and worth all of our effort!”

The numerous determined authors who chronicle the stories of others or who write of their own experiences in these areas do so because they can’t help sharing their remarkable news with all who will listen. My favorite book and its counterparts have certainly added a new dimension to my faith and substantiated my hope regarding eternal life. These writings inspire me to plug away regardless of the difficulties at hand because I know what lies ahead at the end of this journey. I’m quite certain they’ve done the same for many who journey with me.

On this Pentecost Sunday, we celebrate Jesus’ efforts in convincing his disciples of the same. Jesus’ years of teaching through both his word and his example had been blurred in the midst of his passion and death and throughout the days which followed. The disciples felt terribly alone. Fear paralyzed them and they hid, wondering all the while if they, too, would hang from a cross. In spite of all that Jesus had said and done, they trembled. Though Jesus could have moved on to heaven without looking back, he returned to encourage his friends. Jesus appeared to Mary Magdalene to offer her the gift his peace. When Jesus appeared among Peter and the rest, he didn’t chastise or rebuke them for deserting him. He didn’t review his lessons or question their understanding. The first thing Jesus said to them was, “Peace be with you.” Jesus’ purpose throughout these post-resurrection encounters was to fill up the disciples with his enduring presence and his enduring peace. If they believed that Jesus was with them in everything, they would endure. If they believed that they would survive their own deaths as Jesus had, they would prosper. Jesus’ final lesson assured all who would listen that this life is indeed do-able because none of them would be alone in their efforts. One day, each one would cross into eternal life just as well.

The scriptures tell us that, after Jesus’ ascension into heaven, the disciples returned to hiding. So it was that on the first Pentecost God’s Holy Spirit rushed in with a dramatic reminder of God’s enduring peace and presence in their lives. The wind and rumbling walls quickly drew their attention, renewed their hope and nudged them into action. The fire within them finally ignited fully and urged them out onto the streets of Jerusalem to spread God’s word. Suddenly, the things to come seemed within reach and the disciples’ lives became do-able after all.

As for me, I’ll continue to read about our journeys into the afterlife. Every word will underscore my conviction that God’s peace abounds and that God is with us in everything regardless of how alone we may feel at times. With every page I turn, I will celebrate this reality and reaffirm my conviction that, when all is said and done, this life is do-able and worth all of our effort. None of us will ever walk alone and we’ll all end this journey in God’s good company.

©2018 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Loved Always and Forever!

It was decades ago…

Early that morning, I was sitting alone in the teachers’ lounge. I needed a few minutes to gather my thoughts before the school day began. My stepdad had been ill and I felt quite certain that he was in the midst of his last hospital stay. I didn’t realize a colleague had joined me until she said, “Mary, are you okay?” I smiled as I assured her that all was well. I must’ve been convincing because she replied, “Then can I ask you to do me a favor? I bought this book for a baby shower gift and I don’t know if it’s appropriate. Will you read it?” Since I felt badly about misrepresenting my state of mind seconds earlier, of course I agreed to help her. This was the day I became acquainted with Robert Munsch’s book, LOVE YOU FOREVER. When I delivered the book to that teacher’s classroom a few minutes later, I tearfully assured her that her purchase was the best baby shower gift I’d ever seen. It also unexpectedly lifted my spirits. After school that day, I clearly recall announcing to my dear husband that I needed to find that book and to purchase a copy of my own…

Year’s later, shortly after our parish was founded, my husband-the-deacon read that book at all of the Masses on our first Mother’s Day together in 1992. Mike’s gathered our children at the foot of the altar to do the same every year since. Though the book might seem to be a cutesy means to keep the children’s attention for a Mother’s Day homily, its message is meant to do far more for us all. When we listen carefully as Mike reads, we who believe in God’s promises can’t help identifying with the outlandish antics of the child and the eternal patience of the mother in the story. By the end of the book, we who believe in eternal life understand that the experiences of this child and parent illustrate precisely the relationship which God offers to each one of us. Let me explain…

From his infancy, Mother finds her helpless baby irresistible and she promises to love him forever. As is the case with us all, it doesn’t take long for this child to become adept at performing in less-than-lovable ways. Mother thinks the worst that can happen is having her watch flushed down the toilet until her toddler grows into boyhood and then his teens with all of the accompanying trials and tribulations. Still, whatever phase her child grows into, Mother repeats her promise to love him forever. Eventually, the young man leaves home for life in the world. In spite of the distance between them, Mother makes her way to her son to repeat her pledge to love him. As is often the case with those of us blessed with “seasoned” parents, the day arrives when Mother can no longer make her way to her son. She calls and invites him to come to her so she might to speak those words of promise to him one more time. You’ll have to read the book to discover what occurs when mother and child meet…

On this Ascension Day, Jesus finds himself in a similar predicament as his time on this earth with his disciples comes to a close. Though we hear different Ascension gospels each year, the core of Jesus’ message remains the same. In Luke’s account (Luke 24:46-53), Jesus says, “And behold I am sending the promise of my Father upon you.” Luke impresses upon us Jesus’ promise that God will be with us in everything. In today’s account from Mark’s gospel (Mark 16:15-20), Jesus asks his disciples to “Go into the world and proclaim the gospel to every creature.” By sharing the Word, they will assure all who listen of God’s love for them. In Matthew’s gospel (Matthew 28:16-20), Jesus adds his promise, “I will be with you always, until the end of the world.” Jesus promises to remain at their sides through everything. Like the mother in Robert Munsch’s story, Jesus repeats his promise to those he loves over and over again. This is precisely the point of everything Jesus said and did. By the end of the story, you realize that Jesus’ hope is the same as that of the grown child’s mother: That his beloved children accept love and that they learn to love generously in return.

You know, my stepdad passed away not long after I read LOVE YOU FOREVER in the teachers’ lounge that morning. When I bade him my final good-bye, I pictured my stepdad cradled in God’s arms just as that mother had cradled her son and just as that son had eventually cradled his mother. I was convinced that God wouldn’t begin my stepdad’s first day at home in heaven any other way. So it is that I thank you, Robert Munsch, for the poignant glimpse of God’s love which your wonderful book has given me. Thank you, Jesus, for preaching this very lesson every day of your life among us. Thank you, God, for loving each of us through our lifetime journeys home to you. Thank you, Moms (and dad’s!) for doing your best to teach the same!

©2018 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Munsch, Robert (1986). LOVE YOU FOREVER. Ontario, Canada: Firefly Books.
This book is available in bookstores and online.

Thank you, Mom!

I have competed well;
I have finished the race;
I have kept the faith.

2 Timothy 4:7

On this Mother’s Day Eve, I count my blessings. As I assemble my list, I write “Mom”. I learned many things from my mom. Still, the grace with which she lived her last days touched me and taught me most.

Three days before my mom passed away, fatigue confined her to bed. Her daytime attire had changed from street clothes to a nightgown to a hospital gown within seventy-two hours. On the first of those three days, I arrived just as Ruth, her nurse, spooned tiny dollops of ice cream into my mom’s mouth. After giving me my “Hi, Mary” smile, my mom turned to Ruth to whisper, “Thank you for the ice cream.” Afterward, Ruth helped her to the washroom. As Ruth nestled my mom into her wheelchair, my mom whispered again, “Thank you for your help.” Mom held on tightly when Ruth wrapped her arms around her to ease her back into bed. As she left, my mom’s eyes followed Ruth to the door. Ruth turned to wave and my mom smiled in gratitude. Later, when the activity director came to see how my mom was doing, Mom met her with another of those grateful smiles.

In spite of her physical decline and her impending passing, my mother concerned herself with the people around her. She never complained and was ever-grateful for even the smallest kindness, whether or not it was part of ones job or ones duty to her dying parent.

Dear God, thank you for the gift of my mom. She revealed your generosity, grace and love all the way to your embrace.

©2018 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Time To Let Go…

A time to scatter stones, and a time to gather them;
a time to embrace, and a time to be far from embraces.

Ecclesiastes 3:5

My need for order makes it unlikely that I’ll ever embrace the opportunity to “scatter” stones. I’m more likely to arrange them in neat piles or rows depending upon their size. I’m even less likely to choose to be far from embraces. The human touch is extremely important to us all and I can’t imagine ever situating myself far enough away from my fellow humans to preclude hugging.

As I composed that last sentence, the image of my mom an hour before her passing came to mind. She’d drifted into a coma the day before. Her time among us could be counted in hours. That night, I couldn’t bring myself to leave her. It was forty minutes after my sisters had left when I realized the error of my ways. You see, when our mom received her terminal diagnosis, she was very specific regarding where she would spend her last days. The underlying message was that she had no intention of breathing her last in any of our homes. She couldn’t bear to leave us with that memory. My presence at her bedside had obviously interfered with my mom’s intent. After kissing her one last time, I drove the thirty-minute ride home. Ten minutes after I’d arrived, the phone rang. My mom had taken her leave.

Sometimes, we need to leave the proximity of those all-important embraces. There are some things which we must attend to alone.

Patient God, nudge me when it’s time to embrace those you’ve given me to love. Nudge me a bit harder when it’s time for me to step back and allow you to take care.

©2018 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

A Memory To Celebrate!

Then they recounted what had happened on the road and
how they had come to know him in the breaking of the bread.

Luke 24:35

We didn’t visit Emmaus during our second trip to Israel. Our rigorous schedule which included some new sites simply didn’t allow the time. So it was that I allowed myself a peaceful return to Emmaus which only I enjoyed. As we traveled between nearby sites, I recalled the grounds of St. Mary of the Resurrection Abbey. The abbey is located in the Muslim village of Abu Gosh along one of the oldest roads which links Jerusalem to the coast. At the time, the grounds were bustling with young people gathered for a program. When we returned, I discovered that the granddaughter of a friend from Germany was among that group.

After sharing the outdoors with those college students, our guide ushered us into the historic church. Beautiful as it was, I recall the lower level with deep gratitude. It was there that we discovered an ancient stream which flowed as freely as it had in Jesus’ day. I thought that listening to the same soothing rush of water which Jesus’ contemporaries heard was a gift to be cherished. When our guide pulled out his flute and added his rendition of Schubert’s Ave Maria to the mix, I tasted a bit of heaven.

The disciples who met Jesus on the road to Emmaus aren’t the only ones gifted with such encounters. Whenever we open ourselves to one another and to the beauty around us, we cannot help meeting God. This is the reason the Easter Season lasts fifty days and the reason the miracle of Easter should set the tone for every day of our lives. When we respond to the promise of the Resurrection of Jesus in all that we say and do, we truly celebrate Easter!

Loving God, I will find a bit of Easter in every day!

©2018 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved