Why Not Now?

They carried to him all those afflicted
with various diseases and racked with pain…
He cured them all.

From Matthew 4:24

My sister and I attended a family baby shower last weekend. Seeing our extended family elicited fond memories of our parents, grandparents and siblings who’ve passed. Though I’m certain of their current bliss, the sting of these losses remains with me. I can still recall the details of their last days among us.

When the people we love are sick, it’s difficult to see God’s hand in their suffering. When depression, addiction or a misguided heart brings them pain, we wonder why this occurs. When their days are numbered, the inevitable isn’t easy to accept. When we recall the healing powers of Jesus, we’re tempted to ask “Why not now?”

When I ponder this and similar questions, I consider Jesus’ experience as one of us. He struggled with trials and tribulations just as we do. If that wasn’t enough, he was nailed to a cross as well. Was Jesus capable of doing all of this because he knew what was coming afterward? I admit that I also know of the things to come. If I’m honest with myself, I must admit that this should be enough to see me through. Our loved ones in the hereafter tell us again and again that this is so. It’s time I listen!

Dear God, when the going gets rough, nudge us along with reminders of the things to come.

©2017 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Loving Memories

Whoever wishes to be great among you shall be your servant.
Matthew 20:27

Though I don’t often visit cemeteries, I recently did so to celebrate memories of my loved ones. I know I can do this anywhere. Still, I find tangible peace in these places where I once expressed my grief through my tears and spoke my final farewells. Though the remains of all of the people whom I’ve lost weren’t buried in this particular place, each one came to mind as I gazed over rows of monuments which seemed to go on for infinity.

As I considered these losses which began when I was four years old, I realized the reason I so miss these loved ones. In one way or another, they all enriched my life. Even when some of them were not at their best, they touched me in extremely important ways. Perhaps the most powerful trait which these good people shared was their consistent willingness to put others before themselves. Even when circumstances forced them into acts of generosity and selflessness, they rose to these occasions with grace.

As I stood there, a plethora of memories recounted their good deeds. Though I cried the first time I stood at their gravesites, I couldn’t help smiling on this particular day. I looked up as if to find my loved ones in their afterlife abodes and whispered, “How can I thank you for doing all that you did for me?” Though I “heard” nothing in response, I had the distinct feeling that doing the same for those I have been given to love will be quite enough.

Generous God, thank you for the amazing people who have enriched my life. Help me to do the same for those I meet along the way.

©2017 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Another Farewell

A time to be born, and a time to die;
a time to plant, and a time to uproot the plant.

Ecclesiastes 3:2

Thoughts of our Independence Day revelry linger as do memories of another loss I experienced in early July…

My friend battled cancer. But, after long bouts of chemotherapy, John’s future seemed secure. He was a good man and a good priest. His life made all of the difference in the world all who knew him. Eventually, word spread that John had beaten the cancer and a collective sigh of relief rose to the heavens.

With this good news to inspire me, I headed to my computer to write my next article and to get a letter off to John. My poor friend was a captive fan to whom I mailed my reflections each week. I always included a letter to let him know that we were thinking about him. Because we would observe July 4th a few days later, the holiday set my tone. I wished John a generous measure of freedom with which to get on with his life. My litany began with “…freedom from illness, freedom to breathe in as deeply as you want to –with no pain! I wish you freedom from chemotherapy and I wish you hair! I wish you the freedom to get back to the people and the work you love and the freedom to come and go as you please.”

John didn’t read this letter because he returned to the hospital a day after its writing. Pneumonia had set in and John lacked the stamina to fight it. When John’s life among us ended, he embraced ultimate freedom.

While John enjoys life in the hereafter, I admit to a bit of melancholy. I still miss my friend.

Loving God, I think the most difficult part of this life is saying good-bye. Today, please touch the hearts of all who mourn with your peace.

©2017 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Our Good and Gracious God

I began to reminisce on Memorial Day. My husband and I had just returned from a few days up north. As we turned into our driveway, the small American Flags he’d placed in each of our planters caught my eye and my heart. Before unloading the car, Mike unfurled our large flag and placed it on the front of the house. These images of the Stars and Stripes prompted thoughts of many family members and friends who had served in the military and who currently celebrated the holiday in a much better place. I smiled and offered a prayer of thanksgiving for them and for all who have sacrificed so much for us.

Throughout the two weeks since, numerous memories of my departed loved ones have surfaced. At the same time, I’ve enjoyed flashbacks of interactions with the many others still with us who’ve also enriched my life with their presence. This line-up of amazing people began with my great-aunt Sister Gerard. She was born on Memorial Day and I assume her recent birthday elicited my thoughts of her. Our wall of family photos which includes Sister Gerard inspired further reflection. Her sparkling eyes seemed to assure me that my dear aunt continues to love me from her home in the hereafter. I admit to a few tears as I considered Sister’s kindness toward me. Though she was always attentive, Sister Gerard surprised me with an invitation to spend a few days with her the summer before I began sixth grade. She lived in St. Gall’s Convent on the South Side of Chicago where she’d been assigned during much of my childhood. While with her, I spent time with the other sisters as well. I also helped Sister Gerard to set up her classroom for the coming year. All of this boosted my self-esteem exponentially. Of course, Sister Gerard made whoever was in her company feel special. This trait was the hallmark of many of the adults who graced my life. With so much for which to be thankful, I prayed once again.

How I wished my grandchildren could sit on my dad’s lap! My mom made most of my clothes when I was little. How I wished she could sew just one dress for Ellie, Lauren and Claire. I was certain she’d fashion a colorful pair of Bermuda shorts for Danny which would rival those she made for his dad and uncle. My aunts and uncles loved all of their nieces and nephews. How they would have enjoyed Mike and Abby, Tim and Kim and their children! And so it has gone. Fond memories have filled my days and mercilessly interrupted my attempts at this writing. Frustration threatened to distract me further until I realized that these were not interruptions that took me from my work after all. They were gentle bits of inspiration sent to reveal the gift we celebrate today.

On this Feast of the Most Holy Trinity, we celebrate God’s presence among us. This phenomenon began when love impelled our Creator to fashion this universe and all who inhabit it. When humankind failed to grasp the goodness of God’s gifts and looked elsewhere for happiness, God relentlessly pursued us. When we continued to run from God’s loving ways, heaven touched the earth one again in the person of Jesus. From the moment Mary gave birth to her tiny son, God’s presence became tangible. Jesus emerged from this humble beginning to reveal God’s love firsthand. Jesus clarified what we had too long ignored and too long misunderstood. When some failed to see the precious gifts Jesus offered, they turned against Jesus and saw to his death. Jesus responded by rising and returning to ensure us once and for all that God’s love prevails over everything. To see to it that we will never lose sight of God’s loving presence, God’s Holy Spirit remains with us. Though the Spirit may not often be revealed in tongues of fire, the Spirit continues to be revealed in remarkable ways.

These nostalgic interludes with my precious loved ones provided me with tangible evidence of all that we celebrate this Trinity Sunday. God’s ongoing presence in our lives tops the list. God’s Spirit has nudged me along through the numerous people God has given me to love and through those who have so generously loved me. Whether I’m at my best or at my worst, God’s presence remains within me and within the people who journey with me through this life. The only response I can offer is gratitude. So it is that I celebrate the God of love –Creator, Son and Spirit– with thanksgiving. You know, we all have reason to be grateful because God remains present in every moment of our lives. Whether it is in the wonder of Creation, in the presence of a kindred soul or deep within ourselves, we experience God’s love whenever we open our hearts to it. Why do we celebrate this Trinity Sunday? We celebrate because God is with us and God loves us today and always!

©2017 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Treasure To Share

Therefore I prayed, and prudence was given me;
I pleaded and the spirit of Wisdom came to me.

Wisdom 7:7

A friend’s recent loss prompted me to offer some tangible consolation. I promised to share a favorite book which might bring peace her way. I admit that I spent far more time than necessary perusing the literary treasures which fill my bookshelves. Every one has enriched me and I find it impossible to pick up any of these books without rereading a passage or two.

Though our encounters weren’t face-to-face, these amazing authors certainly changed my life. Elisabeth Kübler-Ross pioneered near-death experience studies. I first encountered her work during a college class on death and dying. The good doctor’s scientific research regarding life after this life underscored what I already believed to be true. Though she endured ridicule from the medical community, Kübler-Ross persisted. In the decades since, many medical professionals have substantiated and added to her research. More recent works by Dr. Eben Alexander and Dr. Mary C. Neal, now in my collection, describe their own near death experiences in detail.

While in college, I also read Holocaust Survivor and Nobel Laureate Elie Wiesel. This amazing man’s stalwart spirit sustained him through one of human history’s most heinous episodes. His recent passing brought me back to his writings which continue to inspire me in the midst of our world’s difficulties.

Almost ten years ago, I encountered another author whose bravery took a slightly different turn. George Anderson was a very young boy when he almost lost his life to a terrible illness. When he recovered, little George realized that he’d endured this ordeal in the company of “friends” whom others were unable to see. This connection with loved ones and saints no longer present in this life set George apart in painful ways. When he reached adulthood, he realized that contact with these precious souls brought him closer to God. His book WALKING IN THE GARDEN OF SOULS has brought me the most consolation of all. His is the book I chose to share with my friend.

You know, these authors aren’t the only ones meant to share their wisdom. It occurs to me that you and I also inspire others when we take the time to reveal the treasures in our hearts.

Generous God, be with us as we inspire one another with our personal varieties of wisdom.

©2017 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

We Remember

For the Lord loves his people,
and he adorns the lowly with victory.

Psalm 149:4

This morning, my thoughts turn to our service men and women near and far, present and past. Each of these brave souls accepted an obligation which had or has the potential to take them to the point of death. Though some battled doubt, wondering if anything is worth dying for, each one responded to duty’s call. Today, while tens of thousands of flags decorate our lost service-persons’ graves, their present-day comrades carry on for us and for people of good will throughout this world. Today, I honor each one with my gratitude and with my prayers on their behalf.

My Memorial Day remembrances include all loved ones who’ve passed from this life to the next. Though some never wore a military uniform, they embraced roles which proved to be life-giving to the rest of us. Whether our parent, our spouse, our child, or family member or friend, those whom we mourn accepted their obligations as well. At times, they succeeded and their impacts upon our lives were sources of joy. At times, they failed miserably and their impacts upon us were precisely the opposite. Perhaps they walked away from us when we needed them most. Sometimes, we civilians can be tempted to be AWOL from a commitment that seems to require too much. Still, we mourn our lost loved ones, sometimes because of their humanity and sometimes in spite of it.

There is good news in all of this. Often, after we bid them our final farewells, our memories focus less upon our loved ones’ failures. When we reminisce, we recall the happy times we shared. In our family, my father died when most of us were very young. Within a year of his death, the man had become a saint in our collective consciousness. Years later, when our mother married a wonderful, but very different man, I marveled at his bravery. Following in my father’s footsteps was an impossible task. Yet, upon my step-dad’s death many years later, the same phenomenon occurred. We’d dubbed a second father-turned-saint.

This Memorial Day, we celebrate life after this life in the names of those who know it firsthand. We also celebrate the selective memory which prompted our beloved Creator to embrace them in spite of their frailties and perhaps because of them. This Memorial Day, we celebrate knowing that, when our time comes, God will offer the same welcome to you and me.

Thank you, Dear God, for the promise of heaven and for the loved ones with whom we will share it!

©2017 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved