God Is With Us… ALWAYS!

Throughout most of our seventy-plus stay-in-place days, I’ve been on a bit of a roll. Last week, I shared that leisurely mornings have allowed me to organize my thoughts and my heart each day with our benevolent Creator in mind. Almost every day, my husband-the-deacon and I have also made time for a walk outdoors. Even on the cloudiest bad-news days, I’ve managed to find reason to appreciate God’s goodness in it all. I began this paragraph by saying, “Throughout most of our seventy-plus stay-in-place days…” because the other day was quite different. For perhaps obvious reasons, I vacillated between anger and despair over the suffering and loss caused by our bout with COVID-19 and our inability to work together as one people to fight it. In an effort not to give in to these feelings, I gave Mike a peck on his cheek, grabbed my hoodie and headed outdoors. I fully intended to clear my head and my heart in the process.

That day, the temperature struggled to reach fifty degrees in spite of the sunshine. I stuffed my hands into my pockets as I made my way down our cul-de-sac. I went on toward village hall and into the subdivision to the north. As I walked along the winding streets, a chilling breeze blew open my jacket. I zipped up and pulled my hood over my head. I looked toward the cloudless sky and declared, “Not funny!” Afterward, I picked up my pace just enough to create my own heat as I continued on my way. Eventually, I warmed up and inadvertently began to do what I most often do during my walks. I lost myself in Nature. I looked at the branches of every tree I passed to check on its leaves. Not many months ago, green leaves turned yellow and brown and then fell to the ground to be trampled or blown away. This cycle has continued in the buds and young leaves which now burst forth from charcoal branches overhead. Though the wind continued its brisk assault, I no longer minded.

As I walked on, I looked skyward again. This time, I whispered an apology. I acknowledged that the cold breeze which pushed me along earlier had accomplished much more. Though that breeze gave me a chill, it also gave me the peace and comfort which I’d longed for. I’d fretted so about that virus’s attack on life as we once knew it that I’d forgotten the Source of that life. I’d worried so about our inability to work together in dealing with all of this that I’d forgotten all of the good people who have and continue to do just that. It finally occurred to me that perhaps God has something far more valuable for me to experience during this pandemic than anger and despair. God didn’t cause that virus which wreaks havoc on our lives. However, God did create us with the ability to respond to it. It is God’s faith in us and love for us which breathes life into our efforts. With that, I looked up once again. That time, I said, “Thank you, dear God, for remaining with me and with all of us. Just help us to take notice of your presence more often!” Before I could add an “amen” to my prayer, the wind blew my hood off of my head and pressed my sleeves against my arms. I took that as God’s assurance that I never walk alone. None of us do.

I share all of this as we celebrate Pentecost Sunday with good reason. This is the last day of Easter Season 2020 and what an unusual season this has been! Our lives changed drastically in mid-March when staying-in-place became the norm. Without warning, we lost access to life as we once knew it. The same was true for Jesus’ friends two thousand years ago. The poor disciples had given up everything to follow Jesus and, as their final trip to Jerusalem drew closer, they were in a far worse frame of mind than I was when I set out for my walk the other day. While I had lost my focus for a bit, the disciples were on the verge of losing Jesus. Though we can see light at the end of the tunnel today, Jesus’ followers could not. They watched him taken prisoner, deserted him when he needed them most and then watched him die on that cross from afar. What worse could have happened?

John’s gospel offers a different Pentecost account than the gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke. These three speak of Jesus’ resurrection, subsequent appearances and his ascension into heaven. It was after Jesus’ ascension that the Holy Spirit set the disciples on fire and spurred them into action. Today’s gospel from John (20:19-23) ushers us back to the first Easter. It was on that day, when the disciples heard of the empty tomb, yet still hid in absolute fear, that Jesus appeared. It was on that evening, when the circumstances of Jesus suffering and death were fresh in their minds, that Jesus appeared. The first words Jesus spoke were, “Peace be with you!” Like that quiet presence which walked with me the other day, Jesus slipped into that room to walk with his friends through their grief and fear. Jesus added, “Receive the Holy Spirit!” With those words, Jesus promised his friends that they would never ever be alone.

You know, God’s presence isn’t always tangible. Though God used that breezy day to renew my peace, I still sometimes walk in the fearful disciples’ sandals just as we all do. It is during times such as these that we must let go of our worry and embrace Jesus’ Pentecost promise: God’s Spirit is with us when we need God most, now as our new normal unfolds, and always!

©2020 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

God’s Treasure

How shall I make a return to God
for all God has done for me?

Psalm 116:12

My husband and I have replaced three white pine trees. These once majestic trees had overrun our yard and our neighbor’s yard while also dangling precariously over our roofs. We’d delayed the inevitable until this spring because Mike and I have a difficult time parting with trees. Finally, we called in our friend Daniel-the-Gardener and his crew to take them down.

After a nerve-racking morning with menfolk perched far higher in trees than they should ever venture, the work was done. A few days later, Daniel planted three much smaller arbor vitae and one spruce in their place. A day after that, my husband filled in the empty spaces around those new little trees with grass seed and soil. While Mike planted, I raked the displaced landscape stones into place. In the process, I’d gathered lots of twigs and leaves as well. I knelt next to the piles I’d formed and separated the rocks from the dirt, twigs and leaves in which they were hiding.

Since I was on my knees, it seemed appropriate to offer a word or two to God as I worked. I could have finished this task in half the time, but I didn’t. Rather, I studied each stone, even the ones which were covered with mud. I brushed the mud away and added each rocky bit of treasure to my collection. As I worked, I shared, “Dear God, I’ll use every one of these rocks just as you use every one of us to share your love. Thank you for considering each of us a treasure.”

After acknowledging God’s graciousness in looking upon us as treasure, it occurred to me that I must do the same. I know that these are tough times. Still, as we learn to embrace our new normal, we must also embrace one another. Though our opinions may differ regarding how to proceed, our status as God’s treasure remains the same.

Dear God, inspire us to love as you do.

©2020 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

God’s Characters

“I have found you and
with my holy oil I anoint you…”

From Psalm 89:21

A few days ago, I referenced a childhood photograph which conjured up a regretful memory. Today, a second look at that photo brought a smile to my face. My brother, my four sisters and I are posed on the steps of our front porch. We’re dressed in our Easter finery. On such occasions, a family gathering of some magnitude followed. Such celebrations usually spilled out onto that porch if the weather was at all bearable. Since my parents had eighteen siblings between them, our extended family included an amazing variety of characters. I write “characters” with appreciative thoughts of each one!

Characters of every sort enrich my life. Family, neighbors, schoolmates and church friends account for many. By the time I was sixteen and took my first job at a grocery store, I was quite adept at interacting with others. This came to good use in college, when I eventually married and began my teaching career. All the while, I enjoyed the characters whom I met along the way.

Most precious are the moments I’ve shared individually. These encounters allowed glimpses of others which I might have missed in a crowd. It’s likely that many of these special people have no idea of their contribution to my humble existence. Still, each one reminds me in one way or another that we are all God’s anointed ones. Each of us is a unique gift to those around us and to this world. Yes, we are all God’s characters, sent to enrich others along the way. As we ease back into our new normal, may we all share the best of our characters as only we can!

Dear God, stay with us as we renew our appreciation of ourselves, of one another and of our world.

©2020 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Option A or B or…?

When they heard the sound of God moving about in the garden,
the man and his wife hid themselves…

From Genesis 3:8

When I was a child, we had two family bibles. One was a nicely bound family edition and the other was intentionally kid-friendly. This large book consisted of cardboard front and back covers which held together several booklets. The covers and booklets were held in place by extremely long fabric laces. The seventy-two booklets which eventually completed this bible arrived by mail every month. With each delivery, my mom carefully undid the laces, removed the bible’s covers, inserted the new booklet, replaced the covers and retied the laces. Afterward, I poured over the new arrival.

Every page included colorful illustrations and reasonably understandable text. When I finished perusing each new edition, I habitually returned to the first book’s story of Adam and Eve, the snake and that forbidden tree. The Garden of Eden amazed me almost as much as heaven did. “Why,” I often wondered, “did Adam and Eve eat that stupid apple when God had given them so much else?”

In the years that passed since I posed that question, I accumulated a measure of maturity and wisdom. I found that life in this world poses similar questions every day. I also discovered that it’s up to us to answer as best we can in the moment at hand. Is Option A really my best choice or is it as foolhardy as eating that apple? It’s up to me to figure it out. In the mean time, God watches with great love and with great faith in my and all of our ability to do what’s best.

Dear God, the second and third and twenty-ninth chances you give us seem more important than ever these days. Please be with us as we do our best to choose wisely.

©2020 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Share Your Wisdom Generously

Therefore I prayed, and prudence was given me;
I pleaded and God’s wisdom came to me.

Wisdom 7:7

Times are tough. When we lose a loved one and cannot mourn with those who love us, our pain is amplified beyond measure. Though I couldn’t be with a friend in this situation, I sent her a favorite book which might bring her a measure of peace. I spent far more time than necessary perusing the literary treasures which fill my bookshelves because I needed peace as well. Just reading the titles by these favorite authors eased my own worry.

Though our encounters weren’t face-to-face, these amazing authors 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. Just reading his name strengthened me for the day.

A decade 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.

These authors aren’t the only ones meant to share their wisdom. You and I are also called to inspire others by revealing the treasures in our hearts. What better way is there to lead one another toward our new normal?

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

©2020 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Love As God Loves

As a father loves his children,
so God loves us.

Psalm 103:13

Some years ago, I shared that I work hard at trusting in the goodness of humankind. I’m not foolish enough to believe that there are no evildoers among us. Still, I do believe that in the right circumstances most of us would choose to do good over evil fairly consistently. How I wish I could convince the powers that be that this is the case! Regardless of our ideological stances, we can all likely cite examples of those who agree with us and those who don’t who seem convinced of the opposite. Though this has been the case for a while, our suffering during this pandemic seems to have heightened our inability to get along.

So it is that I’m renewing my effort to trust in the goodness of humankind. I cannot claim credit for coming up with this approach. It is the result of everything I know about God. God loves each one of us and I think we repay this love best when we try to do the same.

Though we’ve been given many sources from which to garner our knowledge of God, I take the bulk of my knowledge from the life of Jesus. Jesus responded to those he met along the way with absolute love. He touched lepers to heal their bodies and their souls. He defended outcasts and shared meals with those others considered to be unclean. Jesus welcomed everyone he met along his way into his company. Jesus proved the be the consummate lover of humanity just like God who sent him to live among us. Jesus trusted in the goodness of humankind as God asked. Today, more than ever, I must do the same.

Loving God, be with me as I try to love as you do..

©2020 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved