Loved Just As You Are

“Which of you fathers, if your son asks for a fish, will give him a snake instead? Or if he asks for an egg, will give him a scorpion? If you know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will God in heaven give to those who ask!”
Luke 11:11-13

When I came across this passage from Luke’s gospel, a long-ago encounter with someone very dear to me came to mind…

I still recall my heartache as my friend sobbed that she was completely unforgivable. Before I could utter a word, she enumerated her alleged evil-doing and the resulting sorrow that had filled her life. My friend ended this monologue with more tears. I waited some time for her tears to run out. When she had no energy left with which to fight off my consolation, I told her that I was glad to be with her and that I loved her. After sitting quietly for a few minutes, I asked if she felt a little better. She smiled and admitted, “I feel a lot better. Thanks.”

I was extremely grateful when my friend gave me that opening. “You know,” I said, “I would never hold anything against you. You lived through some tough times and I understand what drove you to do what you did. You know what else? My opinion doesn’t matter. God’s does. If I can be here for you and forgive you and love you, just think how much more God does all of this for you. God never ever gives up on you! God doesn’t give up on any of us!”

I think my friend believed me because I left her smiling. When she called to thank me later that day, I could hear that smile in her voice. That smile lasted for a very long time…

Thank you, loving and merciful God, for loving each one of us so completely.

©2020 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

I Am Me…

“But you, who do you say that I am?” he asked them.
From Luke 9:20

I have worn many hats. These include daughter, sister, cousin, student, friend, adversary, aunt, great-aunt, teacher, wife, in-law, mom, mother-in-law, colleague, author, grandma, administrator, volunteer, retiree, encourage-er, listener, annoying one. The list goes on and on, as it does for us all. Some who know me might urge me to add a few more complimentary titles. Others might encourage me to add a role or an adjective of which I’m not particularly proud. I’m painfully honest when I also say that, in spite of this list, I sometimes don’t know who I am at all.

It is during life’s most confusing and most difficult times that I jump at the chance to answer the question Jesus posed to his followers so long ago: “Who do you say that I am?” My answer has made all of the difference in the world to me. You see, Jesus’ words convinced me of God’s love for me. Jesus’ example taught me to love my enemies as well as my friends. Jesus’ parables convinced me that I can never do anything which God will not forgive. Jesus is the one who assured me that, miserable as I can be at times, he would lay down his life for me alone. Who is Jesus? Jesus is the one from whom I’ve learned to live as best I can, not in spite of, but because of who I am.

Generous God, I’ve been generously blessed by the teachings of Jesus. His words, his works, his life and his love have shown me the way. Thank you for this amazing glimpse of who you are and who I am meant to be.

©2020 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

With Us Always

I’ve tried to use my stay-in-place time productively. At the same time, I’ve come to appreciate the opportunity to begin each of these seventy-plus days in a leisurely fashion. Before the pandemic, I woke each morning, turned my eyes upward and offered a quick “Thank you for the sleep!” to our benevolent Creator. Each time, I promised to have a lengthier conversation when time permitted later in the day. Then, I’d turn toward my husband to offer or receive a good morning kiss. Afterward, I did the mandated exercises which maintain my back’s flexibility. Finally, I’d quickly read through the day’s pages from two favorite devotionals. By that time, Mike had finished his morning allotment of coffee. We’d have breakfast together and then get on to the given day’s agenda.

Since the pandemic’s onset, leisurely mornings have allowed me to insert more than a single-sentence prayer into my morning routine. While that morning kiss and my exercise continue, I take more time reading my devotionals. On occasion, I read a selection twice or more because the writer’s insight merits a second or third look. Best of all, that one-line prayer has evolved into a conversation which I hope will be a part of every new day I’m given. I exercise on the floor in our room near a large window. These days, I take the time to stand at that window to absorb the beauty beyond the glass. Even on rainy days, I can’t help appreciating God’s goodness in it all. As upset as I’ve been by the loss and suffering caused by our world’s bout with COVID-19, I cannot miss God’s presence in it all. The view beyond my window renews that awareness every day.

I share all of this as we celebrate the Ascension of Jesus because our situation these days is quite similar to that of Jesus’ friends two millenniums ago. Though Jesus and his companions shared many good and happy times together, they also suffered uncertainty and much worse. Some of the temple hierarchy were puzzled by Jesus’ teachings while others resented everything Jesus stood for. A few Romans listened with some interest to what Jesus had to say. Remember the centurion who sought a cure for his dying child? However, most had no use for anyone who might cause unrest among the people. Jesus received a good deal of attention from those who had no one else to turn to. At the same time, he upset the keepers of The Law whenever he associated with anyone they considered to be unworthy or unclean. The closer Jesus and his followers came to their last trip to Jerusalem, the closer they were to Jesus’ demise. The disciples were uncertain of what was to come and they wrung their hands with worry. We’ve spent more than seventy days battling this pandemic and we continue to worry as well.

It occurs to me that this is the reason Jesus closed his time with his disciples with reassurance regarding his absolute faith in and love for each one of them. Jesus reminded his friends of the most important aspects of his teaching. If they took his words to heart, every day they lived would be a God-filled day for them. Though we hear a different Ascension gospel each year, the essence of Jesus’ message remains the same. Luke (Luke 24:46-53) shares that Jesus said, “And behold I am sending the promise of my Father upon you.” Jesus assured his friends that God would be with them in everything. Mark (Mark 16:15-20) tells us that Jesus asked his disciples to “Go into the world and proclaim the gospel to every creature.” They were to go out to assure all who listened of God’s love for them. In today’s account from Matthew (Matthew 28:16-20), Jesus added his promise, “I will be with you always, until the end of the world.” None of us would be left to carry on alone. John’s gospel ends without reference to the Ascension. When John’s gospel is read on Ascension Day, Jesus’ prayer at the Last Supper is cited: “Holy Father, I pray not only for them, but also for those who will believe in me through their word.” Jesus’ prayer included his companions who walked with him and all of us who would eventually be touched by their efforts.

When news of the gradual reopening of our state and of our local churches surfaced, my emotions fluctuated between relief and worry. I was thrilled with the possibility of returning to a bit of normalcy and I worried about the consequences if we fail to ease into these efforts safely. Like Jesus’ disciples, I am more than ambivalent regarding the things to come. And, like Jesus’ disciples, I am reassured. God patiently and lovingly remains with me throughout these trying days. It is God who draws me to that window every morning and to the loving exchanges which follow. Whether I speak of goodness or the evil which threatens, my accomplishments or failures, my relief or worry, God listens attentively to every word. You see, on that Ascension Day when Jesus assured his disciples that he would be with them always, he assured us of the same. God is indeed with us and there God will remain!
©2020 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

The Way…

A FaceTime call from our grandson interrupted this writing. Danny wanted to share that his mom and dad had ordered a slide for their backyard! This was a significant development as local playgrounds are off-limits during these stay-at-home days. Though Danny and his little brother make good use of their backyard, their new slide will add immeasurable fun to their play. Of course, Grandpa and I also voiced our enthusiasm over all of this. With that, we offered our good-byes. Grandpa headed outdoors to check the grass seed we’d recently planted. Though I intended to return to my keyboard, I stood at the window and watched as my husband crossed the yard. Perhaps it was Mother’s Day’s approach that elicited memories of two little boys who’d made good use of that yard…

Our sons loved their slide as much as Danny will. They also loved their sandbox. Every summer, our sons rediscovered the joy of sand. Older son Mikie instructed little brother Timmy regarding the intricacies of road building. Mikie guided his little brother’s hand as he pulled a small shovel through the sand. The trench they created formed a road which accommodated Matchbox cars perfectly. Timmy caught on quickly because, in no time, he and his big brother were pushing trucks and cars along that sandy highway. I prayed that my sons would always work well together. Though I’d said, “Amen,” I didn’t walk away from the window. I’d caught a glimpse of the garden hose my husband uses to water that sprouting grass. Suddenly, fifteen-year-old Mike appeared as he used that hose to water flowers for his dad. Determined to distract his big brother, seven-year-old Timmy ran his hand through the stream of water and splashed Mike. It didn’t occur to Timmy that his brother controlled far more water than he did. Within seconds, Timmy was soaked from head to toe and he and Mike were laughing uncontrollably. I prayed that my sons would always find reason to laugh together.

When I checked my watch, I realized that my window of writing time was closing quickly. Still, I peeked out the window once more. Images of our sons appeared once again. This time, it was Mike’s wedding day. He and his groomsmen had just finished lunch on the patio. I watched as Mike and Tim compared cuff-links and vests. My son-the-groom noted that his brother looked “cool”. My son-the-best-man noted that his brother’s vest and tie were perfect choices for the day. Because they weren’t nearby for me to hug, I offered another prayer on their behalf. I prayed that my sons will always be there for one another through good times and tough times.

Finally, I returned to this writing. Though inspiration from above never fails to urge me on, I wondered what my sons’ relationship had to with this. When I returned to today’s scriptures, I understood. The first reading (Acts 6:1-7) reminds us that the early church grew rapidly to include people from both the Jewish and the Gentile communities. Those who shared the Jewish faith had much in common. Those who did not had little knowledge of The Law and traditions taught in local synagogues. Early on, some noticed that widows and other needy people within the Gentile community were neglected, while those from the Jewish community were cared for. Something needed to be done! It occurs to me that less-than-loving moments arose between my sons as well. Early on, when differences of opinion fueled harshness between them, their dad and I intervened. Eventually, they learned to work out these things on their own. My prayers in this regard were generously answered just as were the prayers of the early church. The disciples implemented a united effort to care for and to comfort all of their community.

In the second reading (1 Peter 2:4-9), Peter offered a pep talk of sorts. When the others became discouraged, Peter urged them to look within for their best selves and to do for others what only they could do. Just as my sons grew to value one another’s gifts and to use their gifts as best they could, we are called, today more than ever, to bring our gifts to the suffering. Peter insisted then just as he does today that we humans are creative enough to help those who need us most while maintaining social distancing and whatever else is required.

It is today’s gospel (John 14:1-12) which offers undeniable encouragement regarding all that we need to do in the moments at hand. At their last supper, Jesus’ friends fearfully complained that they had no idea of what would become of them when Jesus left. Jesus responded by insisting, “I am the way…” If the disciples followed Jesus’ example and if they loved their fellow humans as Jesus loved them, all would be well in the end for every single one. Today, God makes a similar request of us. God gifts each of us with unique talents. God asks only what their dad and I asked of our sons: That we love and encourage those we meet along the way just as Jesus would and as only we can.

Happy Mother’s Day! Happy Be the Best You Can Be Day!

©2020 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Fear Not…

I sought God, and God answered me
and delivered me from all my fears.

Psalm 34:5

While wheeling our recyclables to the street, a glass bottle re-positioned itself and crashed to the bottom of the cart. It made a loud unexpected crash which startled me. When I realized what had happened, I had to laugh at my response. Just a few weeks earlier, I’d dropped my Snapple bottle into our son’s recycle bin which resulted in a similar crash which brought our younger grandson to tears. Fortunately, Ben responded to my embrace and my assurances that all would be well. This little episode brought to mind tender moments with our own sons long ago.

Some of the most meaningful interactions between parents and children result from uncertainty and fear. A parent’s embrace and a few well-chosen words bring the assurance that, indeed, everything will be all right. When parents’ words aren’t enough and their children continue to shiver and shake, they simply hold their little ones tightly for as long as it takes to bring them peace.

During these difficult times, we who are God’s children aren’t very different from our own. Sometimes, no matter how well-chosen God’s words are, we find it difficult to take them in. Uncertainty and fear overwhelm us. For these very reasons, God promises simply to be with us.

I thought I was old enough and wise enough not to be frightened by much. Nonetheless, the devastation COVID-19 has imposed upon our world threatens to do just that. Since my parents’ laps aren’t available, I turn to God for consolation. It is in God’s embrace that I’m reminded of the terrible events which have shaped human history since time began. Throughout these episodes, we supported one another as best we could and as only we could. Today, God asks that we simply do our best to do as much. In the mean time, God will make good on that promise to remain with us all the while.

Loving God, thank you for embracing us in our joy, in our fear and in everything.

©2020 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Good Enough!

So be perfect, just as God is perfect!
From Matthew 5:48

I realize I referenced the scripture passage above yesterday, but its message bears repeating. At first reading, Jesus’ request that we be perfect seems to be asking too much of us. Fortunately, I revisited that word “perfect” from the perspective of Jesus’ contemporaries. To them, striving to be perfect meant trying to be an entire, complete and full-grown version of oneself. The most important part of this is that our “self” is good enough for God. We are good enough whenever we attempt to put our best foot forward…

A few months ago, my sister saw FROZEN 2 at her local theater. Though this Disney flick is marketed to children, my sister shared that it offers a consistent message to all who gather to watch, adults included. Georgette observed that throughout the film’s unfolding, numerous wrongs needed to be put right. Though uncertain much of the time, our animated counterparts simply did what they saw to be the next right thing!

Georgette expounded upon this wisdom… “When things are wrong with the world and/or with us, it is important to remember God’s presence, glory and great love for us in every way. If we can embrace that, we can shed the guilt (and the uncertainty!) and move on to do the next right thing! How liberating to have the path open to do just that! How much better a world we would live in if we do this!”

My wise sister added, “Forgiveness and allowing people to grow in their own way and at their own pace is severely missing in this world today. This actually stunts the growth of all of us. So, we need to pray for open eyes and loving hearts to prevail.”

I couldn’t agree more!

Loving God, thank you for creating us with the capacity to do so much good! Be with us as we do our best to put our best foot forward every step of the way.

©2020 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved