Love Beyond Measure

While he was still a long way off, his father caught sight of him…
He ran out to meet him, threw his arms around him and kissed him.

From Luke 15:20

Because I’m a reasonably good listener, people sometimes share their troubles with me. So it is that I do my best to lessen their burdens. First, I listen. Sometimes, listening is enough. Sometimes, I can do something tangible to help in a small way. Sometimes, the person involved needs a change of heart which can be difficult at best to come by. Sometimes, the person needs a change of venue in order to carry on with some semblance of peace in his or her heart. Sometimes, my troubled friend simply needs to feel loved.

On these occasions, I peer deeply into my own heart for the things which keep me going. Then, I share these things as best I can. You see, I can’t keep my heart from breaking for a person who doesn’t believe that God’s love is intended for him or her. So it is that I willingly invest several minutes and sometimes several conversations to convince this person otherwise. I say, “Though I was far from perfect, my mom loved me. Lot’s of people loved me. Though I’m far from perfect, I’ll never stop loving my kids. If I can be so stubborn in this in spite of my imperfections, how much better must God be at loving me? How much better does God love you?”

You know, many aspects of this life are out of our control. Still, we can all rekindle our trust and embrace God’s love. Though life around us seems to have run amok, God has not. “Yes,” God tells us, “I’m here for you!”

Dear God, you have voiced your love for us again and again. Help us to take your words to heart for ourselves and for one another.

©2019 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

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The Hero Among Us

My dear husband and I had been overwhelmed by the tasks at hand for weeks. Then, Mike contracted the flu which evolved into bronchitis and an ear infection. I was medicated for preventative purposes. Still, I managed to catch a cold of my own. In a last-ditch effort to feel healthy again, we retreated to the north for a few days. We’d hoped to leave those pesky contagions behind and to breathe in some fresh Wisconsin air. As it happened, we did relax for most of those three days away. While Mike alternated between watching reruns and napping, I sought refuge in a thick worn paperback which has been with me since sophomore year of college. While Mike snoozed in the recliner across from me, I nuzzled into the corner of the couch. I didn’t turn to the beginning of my book because I didn’t have the time. Rather, I thumbed through hundreds of pages until I came to the section most familiar to me near the end of that book. I looked carefully until I found the passage I needed to read for this writing. Before I began, I turned my eyes and my thoughts heavenward. Though this would be a difficult interlude with the written word, it would also be a source of great peace for me if only I persisted…

A few paragraphs into the narrative, a chill ran down my spine. The passage I poured over hit a little too close to home. Without warning, difficult memories from my own life resurfaced. I looked away from the page to take a deep breath. Still, the tears flowed freely. This story’s hero is near and dear to me and I wasn’t ready to acknowledge that he approached the end of his life. He had maintained a positive and tough exterior while I lamented. I found him tying up loose ends in an attempt to leave those he loved with the best of his wisdom. Though his tone was hopeful, my hero suffered within. Worry regarding the path ahead threatened to shake his faith. His closest companions failed to sense this. When a few began to take notice, the events at hand distracted them from their concern. I had no doubt that my hero’s friends would be completely overwhelmed as the plot continued to unfold.

As I read on through those final pages with my hero, my own trials and tribulations resurfaced. I suppose this occurred because I identify with his story on many levels. He and I seem to approach the things that are most important to us in the same away. He loved his family just as I love my own. He was devoted to his parents whose most poignant lessons came through example rather than words. My parents taught me with their actions as well. My hero was very much at home in his faith because his parents introduced him to God when he was just a baby. My parents did the same. My hero lost his father early on, yet he grew into a devoted son who made his mother proud. Though my dad’s untimely death caused him to miss most of my childhood, I managed to make my mom proud once or twice as well. When those around him faced difficulties, this hero who seems more like a friend consistently stepped up to help. Though I often fail, I really do try to do the same.

When I turned back to my dog-eared text, I was struck by my hero’s persistence in the face of the worst this life had to offer him. Though he occasionally withdrew to regroup and to replenish his soul, he never abandoned his mission. Indeed, he returned every time more convinced than ever that he was walking the right path. I read on to find my hero as he left a holiday dinner. He had bared his soul to his friends regarding his love for them and he’d offered a final gesture of his devotion to each one. When he rose from their dinner table, my hero wondered if any of his friends had grasped his meaning. It was with a heavy heart that he led them out into the night. He left them to rest in a garden and then moved on to an isolated patch to consider what hours ahead would bring. He always turned to his dad on such occasions and that night is no exception. “Abba,” he prayed, “if you are willing, take this cup away from me…” Fear overwhelmed him and he sweated droplets of blood. Still, he turned to his father once again to add, “still, not my will but yours be done.”

With that, I set aside my tattered bible and closed the page on Luke’s passion account (Luke 22:14-23:56). As calamities from my own life flooded my memory, Jesus’ words filled my heart. I realized that I’d survived these things because I’d followed Jesus’ lead with absolute confidence. Every time, I had turned to the parent Jesus and I share, and, every time, God had accompanied me through what lay ahead. Every single time!

This Palm Sunday, as we listen to Jesus’ story, we acknowledge all that Jesus said and did. In Jesus’ life, we find the strength to endure. In his passion and death, we find the hope that urges us on. Jesus never promised that our lives will be easy, but Jesus did promise often that we will never be alone in our efforts. Today and throughout this Holy Week, we celebrate this hero who has shown us the way to live with courage, to die with hope and to rise into the reality of the resurrection which awaits us all.

©2019 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

God’s Life-Giving Clouds

Last Sunday, I wrote about those perfect storms which cause our personal varieties of circumstances to rumble and to collide. Such storms disrupt everything in their paths. The morsels of peace which normally keep us anchored are strewn about haphazardly as well. All of this commotion prompts us to wonder if our lives will ever return to normal. Fortunately, though perhaps not as quickly as we’d hoped, the clouds disperse and calmer weather settles in. The Persistent One who lingers within nudges us to look beyond the damage caused by that messy weather. God, who remains with us always, points us toward the new day and the new opportunities which lie just ahead. So it is that we find the strength to reassess, to regroup and to refocus our efforts. Though God doesn’t guarantee clear skies and sunshine every step of the way, God does promise to remain with us all the while.

As for me, I’m happy to have weathered my own perfect storm and I’m most grateful for God’s good company throughout those difficult days. Though I never ever want to repeat that episode in my life, I’m grateful for the perspective it has given me. Every day since has become a precious gift in spite the clouds which threaten perhaps too frequently. The truth is that I’ve found reason to look at the clouds above me and around me with new eyes. After all, these clouds promise the rain which brings life to all of creation. Though clouds yielded far more snow than I liked this winter, that snow provided hours of fun times for the children in my life. It also inspired many good deeds in our neighborhood where we helped one another to dig out of the white stuff so we could all get on with our days. Clouds often keep the sun out of my eyes and those of the good deacon as we drive down Green Bay Road or the tollway to visit our grandchildren. The clouds above give me reason to look upward and to consider the beauty and the majesty which lies beyond them. Though I know God resides within me and around me, nothing draws my eyes heavenward more quickly than a sky full of billowy clouds. The clouds which evolved into my perfect storm certainly caused damage. At the same time, they’ve also inspire a new perspective. Rather than being overwhelmed by the clouds in my life, I’ve learned to use them as opportunities to exercise my ability to carry on. Yes, clouds can be quite a gift to us.

On this Second Sunday of Lent, Luke’s gospel (Luke 9:28-36) recounts the story of the Transfiguration of Jesus. By the time Jesus invited Peter, James and John to accompany him up that mountainside, the disciples had come to respect and to love Jesus very much. On that particular day, Jesus chose to reveal something more about himself which simple words could not express. Luke tells us that Jesus’ lessons up to that point had certainly flown in the face of the teachings his friends and all of the people had encountered in the temple. Jesus insisted that God’s people were what mattered most. Whenever necessary, Jesus set aside the stern rules which had caused God’s loved ones so much needless hardship. “The Law was made for man,” Jesus insisted, and not the other way around. If that wasn’t revolutionary enough, that trip up that mountainside provided Peter, James and John a glimpse of the treasure which lay at the end of Jesus’ ministry and at the end of his life. When Jesus took on his “afterlife” appearance in the company of Moses and Elijah, he offered his closest friends a glimpse of the glory which awaits us all. Because he didn’t know what to say about all of this, Peter blurted out something about building a tent to shelter the three marvelous figures before him. It was then that God intervened with a cloud. That cloud began its work by casting a shadow over the disciples. Before Peter could say another word, the cloud surrounded them. Amazingly, it was while they stood in the midst of that seemingly ominous cloud that God spoke. “This is my chosen son; listen to him.” I’m quite certain that this cloudy mountainside encounter with eternity strengthened Peter, James and John throughout the terrible days which followed. After all, on that day, they were assured of their own places among the clouds.

When we find ourselves surrounded by thunderclouds, we need to remember who it was that Peter, James and John found when they suffered the same. Though frightened beyond their senses, they stopped to take notice when God spoke out to them. When God said, “Listen to him,” God reminded Jesus’ friends of all Jesus had taught them about God’s love for them. Through all that lay ahead, God loved them and God stayed with them. The same is true for you and me. Less than 30 days remain of Lent 2019. I encourage you to join me in spending every one of those days listening for God’s voice in the clouds around us. Though it may not come as boldly as it did on that mountainside, God’s voice and God’s love will be there just the same.

©2019 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Forgive and Heal…

His father caught sight of him,
and was filled with compassion.
He ran to his son, embraced him and kissed him.

Luke 15:20

Forgiveness is a tough topic. Forgiveness is multifaceted. It includes giving and receiving forgiveness from others and giving and receiving forgiveness from ourselves. Though I once thought forgiving others is the tough part, I’ve discovered that receiving the forgiveness of others is difficult as well. Most difficult I think is accepting forgiveness from myself. When I accept forgiveness from anyone, I acknowledge that I’ve done wrong. This isn’t easy…

I’ve wrestled with forgiveness since childhood. As a child, I judged myself. This judgment was harsh and final. Because I viewed myself this way, it was difficult to accept that anyone else would view me more lovingly. It was only when I looked to Jesus’ Parable of the Prodigal Son that I finally understood. That young man’s father echoed what God has spoken to each one of us since we took our first breaths: Silly child! I canceled your entire debt long before you turned my way for forgiveness. Dear child, deal as mercifully with yourself as I deal with you. Deal as mercifully with your sisters and brothers as I deal with you! Forgive and be healed!

Jesus’ parable says it all. We are a much-loved and generously forgiven people. With that knowledge in hand, God invites us to for give when necessary and to heal one another and this world as only we can!

Loving God, thank you!

©2019 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Healing… Always A Possibility!

“Those who are healthy do not need a physician,
but the sick do.”

Luke 5:31

The other day, my husband returned home as our most recent snowfall ended. He had a quick lunch and then headed outdoors. He’d had a rough time the day before as he’d presided at the funeral of a good man whose death came unexpectedly. In an effort to be helpful and perhaps ease his pain a bit, I pulled on my coat and boots and followed him. Mike started the snowblower while I grabbed my trusty shovel. Though the snowblower’s roar prevented any conversation between us, we were together. When the job was finished, Mike was feeling much better and so was I. Healing came as unexpectedly as the loss of our friend had.

You know, the same can occur wherever we find ourselves with another of God’s kids. We have partners, family and friends, neighbors, work colleagues and classmates at school. We belong to faith communities, social clubs, service organizations and sports teams. We also enjoy our friendships with God: Just God and you; just God and me. It seems to me that it is our relationships with God which fuel our efforts to bring healing to those we’ve been given to love.

It’s reasonably easy to bring healing to my husband. After decades together, I can read him and respond accordingly. This isn’t necessarily the case with others. Still, we can pull on our coats and grab our shovels to help a fellow soul to clear the path ahead. After all, healing may be unexpected, but it’s always a possibility!

Dear God, help us to be generous with our love and to share that love with those who need it most.

©2019 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Nothing’s Impossible!

It was during the January 2019 deep-freeze that I set aside my errands to make good use of the time indoors. Before getting a head start on my upcoming reflections, I decided to clean my desk. Most of my work-space is actually in reasonably good order. The eight-inch high heap to the left of my keyboard is the exception. It is there that I’ve stacked inspirational items of every sort. These scribbled quotes and pamphlets, a funeral booklet, newspaper clippings, a playbill, some greeting cards, and only God and I know what else, promised to inspire my future writing in some way. As a result, I kept them. All of this is held in place by the book of scripture readings which I reference when I prepare to write for you. Before tackling that little mountain of paper, I read the passages we hear today. Perhaps I’d find a bit of inspiration as I worked…

As I worked, I scanned each item to determine whether or not to keep it. I’d made my way through two-thirds of them when I found a program from the Marriott-Lincolnshire Theatre. The good deacon and I had attended a Summer 2016 performance of Man of La Mancha there. I’d kept the program because I fell in love with the story of Don Quixote, the main character of the play, while studying Spanish in high school. My teacher worked very hard to move her students from our obsession with building our Spanish vocabularies to some appreciation of Spanish culture. We’d studied the classics which included Miguel de Cervantes’ work. When Cervantes was imprisoned during the Spanish Inquisition, he defended himself from the ruthlessness of his fellow prisoners by telling the story of Don Quixote. This delusional self-professed knight vowed to bring goodness to the world at any cost. In spite of numerous misadventures, Don Quixote saw the goodness in everything and everyone he encountered. I couldn’t help smiling to myself as I realized that my fictional friend’s quest would inspire this writing.

As I straightened the rest of those papers, I hummed my favorite songs from the play, Dulcinea and The Impossible Dream. Don Quixote believed that Aldonza, a woman of the night who worked the local inn, was the beloved about whom he’d dreamt for an eternity. He not only insisted upon addressing Aldonza as “Dulcinea”, He also sang to her, “Dulcinea, Dulcinea, I see heaven when I see thee, Dulcinea. And thy name is like a prayer…”* Needless to say, the poor woman was dumbfounded because no one, including her own mother who left her to die at birth, had ever truly cared for her. The only affection she’d experienced carried a price tag. Aldonza couldn’t fathom Don Quixote’s pledge of unconditional love and his desire to take nothing in return. When Aldonza finally asked Don Quixote why he did the things he did, he replied in song with The Impossible Dream. I’ve never listened to or sung those lyrics without tears in my eyes, perhaps because they reach to the core of everything I believe to be possible and true…

“To dream the impossible dream; to fight the unbeatable foe; to bear with unbearable sorrow; to run where the brave dare not go. To right the unrightable wrong; to love pure and chaste from afar; to try when your arms are too weary; to reach the unreachable star.”* I think you get the idea. While in high school, I believed every word. I knew everything could be and would be better, if only we made it so. When I left the theater with my dear husband three years ago, I’d saved that playbill with good reason. I’d found myself simultaneously invigorated and saddened. The exuberance came in my renewed acquaintance with Don Quixote. I was inspired and ready to meet the challenge to reach for that star with him. The sadness came with the realization that I’d become “realistic” over the years. (Don Quixote would have called me cynical!) I no longer expected things to improve as I’d hoped in my youth. Today, Jesus asks me to cast aside my cynicism and to embrace his thinking just as Don Quixote had.

Luke’s gospel (Luke 6:27-38) suggests that Jesus and Don Quixote had much more in common than the people cared to acknowledge. Jesus asked those who would follow him to pursue his impossible dream. “To you who hear I say, love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you. Pray for those who mistreat you…” Jesus’ list went on and on. Those who heard this lived in poverty and oppression. If they could have chosen their consolation, it would likely have been revenge upon their enemies. The last thing the people wanted to hear was that they must be gracious toward those who had made their lives unbearable. Yet Jesus persisted. “Dream my impossible dream,” Jesus seemed to say, “and you will enjoy the riches that belong to the children of God.” When Jesus looked upon the people, he saw the potential to create God’s kingdom on earth. When Don Quixote looked upon Aldonza, he saw heaven within her. When God looks upon you and me, God sees heaven as well. In every choice we make to do what is seemingly impossible good, God sees heaven on earth!

©2019 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

*From MAN OF LA MANCHA (1972), written by Dale Wasserman; music by Mitch Leigh; lyrics by Joe Darion