Beloved Lambs

The Lord is my shepherd and there is nothing I shall want.
Psalm 23:1

October 2020 continues to be challenging. In addition to our ongoing immersion into the pandemic, a dear family member moved on to the hereafter. A young woman looks toward her future with an unexpected diagnosis which will determine her passing as well. My husband has presided at more funerals and committals than expected as of late. The rainy weather mirrors my sentiments as I offer prayers for those looking toward their last days and for those left behind.

I’ve walked with loved ones through serious illnesses. Though I couldn’t do much to help, I watched with care as they processed the scenario which lay before them. In every case, I was deeply moved by their bravery through transitions from anger to fear to sadness to practical concern for those left behind to joyful anticipation of the things to come. It was then that I thanked God for the grace which allowed these amazing souls to manage their illnesses and to embrace their final journeys home.

As is the case with most of us, my journey home to heaven lies ahead sometime beyond my knowing. In the mean time, I turn to a favorite Psalm where I find encouragement for the journey ahead. Psalm 23 elicits the image of a happy little lamb dancing through tall grass in a beautiful pasture. Within seconds, this lamb’s revelry becomes my own. “The Lord is my shepherd and there is nothing I shall want…”

With that, I resolve to do my best today regardless of all this day will bring. I do so with a smile because God is my shepherd and there really is nothing more for me to want.

Loving God, help us all to remember that you are always walking at our sides seeing to our safety with great love.

©2020 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

We Walk In Good Company

God rescues you from the snare of the fowler
and from the destroying pestilence.

Psalm 91:3

Psalm 91 inspired a familiar hymn which I hear at most funerals. Isn’t it odd that, in the midst of our losses, we sing about God’s rescuing us from the snare of such sadness? Though this may seem odd, this is precisely what God has done every time I’ve found myself steeped in misery.

A few weeks ago, a friend sat at her son’s funeral. Though this mother was elderly and her son had lived five decades, the setting was not as things should be. Parents shouldn’t bury their children at any age. Yet, how often they do. As I wrote a not of sympathy to this woman, my thoughts turned to Mary, the mother of Jesus. It occurred to me that even Jesus’ family wasn’t spared this unthinkable sorrow.

Our earthly lives include a few givens. The cynical side of me wants to list taxes and death first. Though our time on this earth includes ample opportunities to enjoy God’s gifts, it also includes a measure of sorrow for each one of us. When we sing or pray about God rescuing us, this doesn’t guarantee that God will dispel our misery or scoop us up and away from our troubles. It does promise that God will walk us through our pain toward better things to come. Even when we forget to ask for God’s company, God remains with us.

Loving God, thank you for walking at our sides.

©2020 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Surrounded By God’s Love

You dwell in God’ house;
You abide in God’s love.

Psalm 91:1

After purging a few drawers and part of a closet, I folded and bagged our unneeded clothing. Though some items no longer fit us, they are in excellent condition and will serve a few of God’s more slender children quite well. In the process, I might have bristled over the extra pounds I’ve found during these stay-in-place days. But, oddly enough, I didn’t. As I filled those bags with these wearable treasures, I encountered God in a wonderfully uplifting way. While carrying them out to my car, I realized I was sharing what I had with enthusiasm, the enthusiasm with which I believe God loves us. It was awesome!

As I contemplated this awesomeness, it occurred to me that I might have missed this gift at another moment in time. You know as well as I that life has been tough since COVID-19 took up residence among us. The resulting hardship burdening so many people has tested my appreciation for God’s plan in all of this. Though I truly believe that everything happens for a reason, a good reason, I also know that too many of my fellow humans are suffering greatly these days. Knowing that there really isn’t much I can do to help adds to my angst. It was with this mindset intact that I’d begun to purge those drawers and that closet. It was with this mindset intact that God dispelled my brooding with a taste of Divine Love.

Finally, it occurs to me that God is quite aware of all of our suffering. Just as God used my purging to remind me of how much I am loved, God works through each one of us to bring the same message to those who need it most. Even when we fail to cooperate in God’s work, God finds a way to say, “I love you!”

Thank you, Dear God, for your love!

©2020 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

A Glimpse of God’s Peace

So he went in and said to them,
“Why this commotion and weeping?
The child is not dead…”

Mark 5:39

The funeral director called to request a favor. A woman’s remains would be brought in from out-of-state for her committal and burial. Since her family had no local church affiliation, the funeral director called to ask my husband to do the service. As he prepared, Mike asked about the person who had passed and her family. He discovered that this fifty-eight year old person was disabled and had been cared for by her elderly parents all of her life. By this time, her parents’ ages prevented them from traveling. Still, they wanted their child’s remains to lie near their other departed family members. One day, these parents will do the same.

In spite of their own advanced ages and their daughter’s difficult life, these parents deeply grieved her loss. At the same time, they couldn’t help sharing the bit of joy their daughter had offered them at the end of her life. “Just before Ella passed away, she told us that she was going with Jesus and she smiled. How can we cry after hearing that?” Mike responded by sharing the homily he would offer at Ella’s service with her parents. This time, he knew there was no need to persuade mourners that their loved one had embraced eternal life. He simply smiled with them over what they now knew to be true.

When Mike presides over a burial with only himself and the funeral director in attendance, he is often struck by sadness. Not this time, however. Mike knew that Ella couldn’t be happier and that the same was true for her parents.

Gentle God, touch the hearts of everyone who experiences loss with a glimpse of the peace which Ella shared with her mom and dad.

©2020 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

The Best Kept Promise

“Amen, amen, I say to you…
the dead will hear the voice of God.”

From John 5:28

I believe that I make peace with the passing of my loved ones for good reason. From very early on, my parents assured me that those who neared death were destined for absolute happiness and health in heaven. As I grew older and came to appreciate the suffering of those left behind, I held on to my parents’ promises and my own conviction that heaven is indeed worth the pain of this temporary separation. Over the years, I’ve found further consolation in the wonderful accounts offered by those gifted with Near Death Experiences. These people who have tasted life after this life assure us all that my parents’ promises from long ago are well-founded.

A close encounter with this phenomenon came at the hands of my mom. She was diagnosed with terminal cancer and given a prognosis of four months. After acknowledging that she had lived a good and long life, my mother’s only wish was to be independent for as long as possible. As it happened, she remained miraculously pain-free and medication-free, except for her insulin, until the end. It was during her final week among us that my mom mentioned the beautiful voices. She also remarked that her sisters were waiting for her. The morning of the day she passed, I asked my mom if she was afraid. Her face glowed when she answered, “Oh no, Mary. It’s beautiful over there!”

Even in the midst of our battle with COVID-19, I can’t deny it. Heaven truly is worth the wait!

Loving God, thank you for so many amazing glimpses of the wonder which lies ahead.

©2020 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

We’re All Invited!

Turn to me and be safe…
From Isaiah 45:22

Our granddaughter’s and grandson’s recent birthdays inspired some reminiscing on my part. Perhaps because we couldn’t gather for our typical large family parties, memories of parties past filed me up. Like my mom, I’m happiest when we’re gathered as family under one roof having a good time. How she would have loved to participate in the many gatherings that have occurred since her passing!

It was seventeen years ago. After what we expected to be uneventful surgery, we were shocked by news of our mom’s cancer, her four-month life expectancy and the possibility of pain, a lot of pain. When we told our mom, she shared our surprise at the diagnosis, but not at the outcome. “We all have to die from something. I’ve had a good long life… I hope I can do what I want for a while. I hope I can be comfortable. I hope I go without too much trouble. I hope…” We all hoped with her.

In the end, the outcome was precisely what my mom had hoped for. The pain never came and Mom did everything she wanted to until her last two days when she remained in bed. Two days before she left us, I asked if she was okay and if she was afraid. My mom sported a huge smile and said, “Oh no, Mary! I’m not afraid. They’re all waiting for me!” On the day she left us, my mom’s eyes were closed, but her heart was wide open to the things to come. She was about to enjoy the best family gathering of all!

Loving God, thank you for making us capable of loving so much that our losses hurt and thank you for filling us with just enough faith and hope to cope until we join in that celebration.

©2020 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved