P… Peace

Kindness and truth shall meet;
justice and peace shall kiss.

Psalm 85:11

P is for Peace. Of all of my heart’s desires, I think I long for and relish peace most of all. The truth is that during the most difficult times of my life, I’ve been at least faintly aware of a measure of peace deep within me. In spite of the troubles at hand, I feel convinced at some level that circumstances will evolve for the best. While I may make my own ample contribution of blood, sweat, tears and prayer in the process, peace eases its way to the surface. Eventually, I accept that I can only do what I can do and I leave the rest to God. Letting go is an extremely difficult, but liberating exercise. When I empty myself of my worry and angst, I make room for God’s peace to enter in.

Though I may have to wait for heaven to enjoy the psalmist’s peaceful image which I’ve cited above, I can infuse some level of peace into the moments I’m given here. Perhaps my New Year’s efforts to improve should include a deep breath before allowing less-than-peaceful sentiments to flow from my lips. Perhaps these efforts should include a glance upward and a glance within before I take the gloom and doom around me to heart. Perhaps I need to begin each day with a prayer that God’s peace surfaces within me before I allow anything else to erupt. Perhaps I can bring a glimpse of the psalmist’s image to this world after all…

Compassionate God, you generously gift us with your peace. Help us to set aside our worries and to focus upon your peaceful presence as we embrace all that lies ahead.

©2020 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

L… Love

You shall love the Lord your God
with your whole heart,
with your whole soul,
and with your whole mind….
You shall love your neighbor as yourself.

From Matthew 22:37-38

L is for Love. This is a tough one. I don’t have a bit of trouble loving God. Though I admit to having had words with our patient Lord, this is the result of my certainty of God’s love for me. God invited me into a relationship. When I accepted, I committed myself to being completely honest in this regard. This is my only choice. After all, if I don’t share my true feelings, God knows them nonetheless.

Early on, a wise teacher shared that there is something lovable about every one of us and that it is up to us to discover what this is. This observation has helped me a great deal over the years. Though I don’t have a flawless track record, I can honestly say that I don’t hate anyone. Still, though I love my neighbor in theory, putting that love into practice sometimes poses a challenge. The good news here is that I try.

The toughest part is loving my neighbor as I love myself. When this New Year 2020 became reality, I resolved to work at being less judgmental. What I must be clear about is that much of that judgment is directed toward myself. If I fail to love myself enough to allow myself the luxury of being a frail human, how can I love my neighbors enough to allow them to do the same? God loves me and God is amazingly patient with me. I must learn to do the same.

Love is a tricky endeavor at best. Still, it’s the best work we can do and the best source of true happiness. The passage from Matthew above isn’t a directive. It’s an invitation to heaven on earth.

Loving God, thank you for creating us in your image, especially when it comes to our ability love.

©2020 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

K… Kindness

People who are well do not need a doctor;
sick people do. I come to call upon sinners.

From 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 can salvage the moment 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. That kindness 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.

©2020 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

J… Joy

The Lord has sent me to bring
glad tidings to the poor,
to proclaim liberty to captives,
recovery of sight to the blind
and release to prisoners…

Luke 4:18

J is for Joy. Sometimes it’s difficult to focus on joy. A recent off-the-cuff comment opened an old wound. Though I tend to let go of hurts from the past, my heart ached. I distracted myself by perusing the newspaper which increased my melancholy exponentially. I set aside the paper and grabbed the remote. As I surfed the channels, a news report caught my eye. The update confirmed that recent violence was accomplished to honor God’s name. I sank into my recliner, looked out the window and asked, “Dear God, what are we doing?”

We humans have been hurting one another in God’s name since the beginning of time. Still… Before I could repeat my question, a strong gust scattered glitter-like snow across the frozen ground. Almost on cue, several birds fluttered about, ensuring that those sparkling bits of ice remained afloat. When the birds congregated at their favorite feeder, another gust lifted the silver-white specks yet higher. That gust lifted my heart as well. “Thank you, Lord!” I said aloud.

Though that glistening snow didn’t change the subzero temperature outdoors, it filled me with winter’s beauty. Though those flitting flakes will eventually settle and melt, God’s handiwork surrounds me. As long as some of us continue to appreciate the joy within us and around us, there will be joy in this world of ours. Rather than allowing ourselves to be overwhelmed by wounds old and new, let’s revel in the joy and share that joy with one another at every opportunity.

Generous God, you share your joy with us through Creation, through those you have given us to love and through your presence deep within us. Help us humans to focus on your joy in spite of our continuing attempts to distort and disfigure it.

©2020 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

E… Everlasting

Who am I that you should be mindful of me
or that you should care for me?
You have made us little less than angels,
and crowned us with glory and honor.

Inspired by Psalm 8:5-6

E is for Everlasting. Of everyone and everything in existence, only God is everlasting. Only God has no beginning and no end. God is, was and always will be. Though we have been blessed with immortal souls, it is God who breathed life into each one of us at a particular point in time.

The best part of all of this is that God’s every characteristic is also everlasting. God’s love; God’s patience; God’s forgiveness; God’s mercy; God’s creativity; God’s knowledge of you and me; God’s amusement over our silliness; God’s compassion when we are hurting; God’s ability to look beyond our failures to the goodness deep within us. God’s everything is everlasting.

Today, I hope I can respond to God’s everlasting gifts to me with gratitude. Perhaps today will be the first of an everlasting string of days on which I thank God simply for being God. What more do I need? What more does any of us need?

Everlasting God, you remain with us for the long haul, today and always. Thank you for including us in your eternity.

©2020 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Our Truly Wonderful Lives

This is the Feast of the Baptism of the Lord. Today, the church closes the Christmas Season just as we have in our homes. I admit that I delayed the process for as long as possible. It was only when a local meteorologist promised bearable temperatures that I set aside my reluctance to assist my husband. Because our younger and more daring friend assisted Mike with the outdoor lighting, I tended to the indoors. I urged myself on with this year’s take-down-the-tree viewing of It’s A Wonderful Life. Because I began my work in the living room and the television is in the family room, I raised the volume enough to allow me to hear the dialogue while I worked. This film is such a part of me that I can visualize every scene without watching a single frame. While the guys rolled up light strings outdoors, George Bailey and I became reacquainted indoors.

As I boxed ornaments and rolled up my own portion of lights, I celebrated the many people to whom George’s life had made all of the difference in the world. As I absorbed the dialogue, images from George Bailey’s life flooded my memory. The selfless decisions which defined George elicited frequent tears. Though I’ve seen the movie numerous times, I suffered every disappointment with George as though I had no idea that things would work out in the end. “Poor courageous George,” I thought to myself. “If only you realized just how good you are!” And so it went until the movie ended and our Christmas Tree was bare.

When Mike and I finished the tasks at hand, it was time to commit our tree to the parkway. There it would wait for a public works employee to toss it into a truck for the trip to the Land of Mulch. As I considered that barren tree, it occurred to me that George Bailey felt like that tree far too often. He should have felt good about the wonderful things he’d done for others. He saved his brother’s life and that of a sick child who was sent the wrong medicine by a distraught pharmacist. He took over his father’s business to prevent the loss of many jobs and many more homes. He used his own savings to send his brother to college in his place. All the while, George fought temptation in the form of Mr. Potter, the most miserly man in town, to stand up for God’s riff raff. Yes, George Bailey was a good man who gave the working poor and many others something to live for. Finally, when George felt that he had no more to give, the God-of-the-Riff-Raff stepped in through Clarence, a bumbling angel-to-be. If you watch the movie, you can join George in celebrating what truly was a wonderful life. Celebrating our lives on this earth is the point of our celebration of The Baptism of the Lord.

Matthew’s gospel (3:13-17) tells us that John the Baptizer was deeply inspired by Jesus. When Jesus asked to be baptized, John was reluctant to cooperate because he felt Jesus should baptize him. Though pleased with John’s faith, Jesus asked John to baptize him just the same. After John immersed Jesus in the Jordan River, God entered into the scene to announce to all who would hear, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.” These words, proclaimed from the heavens over Jesus, were meant just as readily for John the Baptist, for the George Baileys among us, for you and for me. Though they don’t echo from the clouds above, God speaks these words just as clearly in the depths of our hearts. God’s words resound every time we embrace the difficult, selfless choices that make all of the difference in the world to those around us. When we feel we have no more to give, like George who was tempted to hurl himself off a bridge, God steps in. Though God’s appearance may not be as tangible as that of Clarence, God’s presence is very real.

Though I know how It’s A Wonderful Life will end, I cry through it every time I watch it. This phenomenon repeated itself in Jesus’ life as well. Jesus prayed often. Jesus revealed God’s love in his actions toward those who needed him and in stories like the Parable of the Prodigal Son. Jesus knew his life would end well, yet he suffered more disappointment and discouragement along the way than George Bailey. The same is true of you and me. Though our faith tells us that all will be well in the end, we worry inconsolably. When we fail to see the value of what we do, we join George Bailey on that bridge. Still, it’s when we’re on that bridge that we must recall George’s joy when his life was given back to him. It’s when we’re on that bridge that we must recall God’s words at the baptism of Jesus and realize that they are meant for us as well. “This is my beloved… with whom I am well pleased.” Yes, when we’re on that bridge, our lives are given back to us as well. This happy ending is truly the happiest beginning we will ever know!

©2019 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved