Always With Us

“This child is destined for the falling and the rising of many…”
Luke 2:34

The Fourth Station: Jesus Meets His Mother

I have two sons of my own and I know that I could never bear to see either one of them suffer as Jesus did. I would certainly offer myself in either of their places. Jesus would certainly have shielded his mother from the suffering she endured on that wretched day, wouldn’t he? Yet, Jesus didn’t even shield himself. He proceeded with what was set in motion out of absolute love for you and me.

Over and over again throughout my life, I’ve prayed that the burdens borne by my loved ones be lifted away. When nothing seemed to change and all concerned had reached the limits of their endurance, I prayed further only to ask God, “Why haven’t you fixed this?” It is in the midst of my anger that my loved one whispers a word of thanks for my presence and for the bit of relief that seemed to come from nowhere. It is in the midst of my anger that the telephone rings and the caller shares good news about a revised diagnosis. It is in the midst of my anger that I realize that God had a plan after all and that God’s plan was far better and far more timely than my own.

Though being witness to the pain of others continues to break my heart, I’ve finally come to understand that I don’t see these things alone. God stands with me. I’ve also come to understand that God not only sees it all, but God also feels our pain as we do. Nothing is more consoling than knowing this.

Loving God, thank you for being with us in everything.

©2019 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

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N is for Name

At daybreak, he called his disciples by name… Simon, to whom he gave the name Peter,
and Andrew his brother, James and John, Phillip and Bartholomew, Matthew and Thomas, James son of Alphaeus, and Simon called the Zealot, Judas son of James, and Judas Iscariot.

From Luke 6:13-16

N is for Name. The day my mom gave birth to me, she and my dad hadn’t yet selected my name. They had some time to decide because new mothers had longer hospital stays back then. The day after, my mom’s sister visited her. When Aunt Lucille asked my name, my mom admitted that she and my dad hadn’t yet decided. With that, Aunt Lucille immediately suggested, “Mary Ellen! I have Jean Ellen and I would’ve named my second daughter Mary Ellen.” My aunt wouldn’t have a second daughter because her husband had passed away some months earlier. Without a second thought, my mom responded with absolute love: “We’ll name her Mary Ellen!” When my dad arrived, my mom announced her decision. His first response was, “Where did you get that name?” When my mom explained, my dad agreed that his brother’s wife had offered the perfect name for me.

Naming someone is a powerful gift. My mom named me to remind my aunt of just how much she is loved. God renamed Abram when God sent him off to father the Jewish people. Jesus renamed Simon who became Peter, the rock upon whom Jesus built his faith community. When Saul vengefully persecuted that community, Jesus renamed him. Paul is among the greatest teachers of Christian living.

Though your name and mine were bestowed with a bit less fanfare than those of our biblical predecessors, God uses them with the same expectation. In every opportunity which comes our way, God calls your name and mine with great love and with great hope in our responses.

Dear God, we listen as you call our names and we respond as best we can.

©2019 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

From Mundane To Holy

He went down with them and came to Nazareth, and was obedient to them…
and Jesus advanced in wisdom and age and favor before God and man.

From Luke 2:51-52

On this second day of New Year 2019, I wonder if I’ll actually have success with my New Year’s resolutions. Our Christmas Tree will stand for only a few more days and I sense the ebb of the Christmas Spirit around me. The joy of the First Christmas faded just as quickly, perhaps more so. After all, Mary and Joseph had a baby in tow for the long trek home from Bethlehem. There, life would fall into some level of normalcy and they would be left on their own to raise God’s son, much as we are left on our own to do what we do. Of course, God watches over us all the while.

Our ordinary days are as important for us as they were for Jesus. You know, the best of this life can be found in the simplest human experiences. Perhaps picking up playthings and helping to clear the table predisposed Jesus to becoming a responsible adult. Perhaps this willingness to cooperate helped young Jesus to notice when another was in need. Perhaps being thanked by his parents taught Jesus to be grateful when others were kind to him. Perhaps there were times when the Holy Family did without things in order to share with others. Perhaps these choices taught Jesus the generosity characteristic of his encounters with others in adulthood. Perhaps the seemingly mundane things you and I do for others are making an impression as well.

Dear God, help us all to transform the mundane into the holy, one good deed at a time.

©2018 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Gifted with Heavenly Peace

A few weeks ago, Grandpa Mike and I spent the day with our grandsons. Big Brother Danny attended preschool that morning while Grandpa and I entertained little Ben. Though this five-month-old smiles perpetually, especially for Grandpa, he didn’t do so that morning. He was hungry and tired and simply wanted Mommy to feed him and rock him to sleep. Mommy had done this just before she left for the day. Afterward, poor Ben had to rely upon me and my meager resources to soothe him. Grandpa warmed a bottle while I rocked Ben and cooed my best. I sang a string of little songs which I habitually compose on the run for whichever grandchild is on hand. Though Ben normally smiles in return, that day, he howled all the louder. When I’d sapped my creativity, I walked Ben to the Christmas Tree with the hope that the lights would distract him from his woe. On the way, I sang Silent Night. By the time I voiced “all is calm, all is bright” Ben stopped crying and began to coo in response. Finally, Ben’s milk was warm. Though he normally guzzles these liquid feasts as quickly as possible, this time Ben slowly savored every drop. As for me, I continued to sing Silent Night until Ben finished that bottle and went to sleep. As I lay him in his crib, I whispered a prayer of gratitude for Ben’s willingness to “…sleep in heavenly peace.”

I tiptoed back to the family room where Grandpa was sitting in the quiet. Danny’s preschool bus wouldn’t bring him home for another hour, so we basked in “heavenly peace” as well. We chatted about the frenzy of the days ahead, finalized our Christmas lists and tweaked our shopping plans. In spite of the uneasiness in the world-at-large around us, we voiced our gratitude for the blessings of our family, our friends and one another. Throughout that brief reprieve, we savored every minute of the heavenly peace we’d found…

Not long after we celebrate this Fourth Sunday of Advent, we’ll hug our loved ones and greet those we meet with a joyful “Merry Christmas!” In spite of the imperfections of this life which will persist through December 24 and 25, we’ll embrace the heavenly peace we encounter. That peace will come in the company of our loved ones. That peace will come as our sometimes imperfect Christmas preparations evolve into perfect expressions of our affection for one another. Though our human quirks will punctuate our Christmas festivities far more often than our Hallmark expectations prefer, heavenly peace will remain intact. We will savor that peace just as Little Ben savors every drop of his milk because it is within this peace that we find true joy and it is within this peace that God dwells. I’ve insisted throughout Advent 2018 that we’ve had no need to wait for God’s coming because God has been with us all along. Christmas simply offers us another opportunity to celebrate God’s presence among us and within us.

Today, Luke’s gospel (Luke 1:39-45) encourages us to embrace heavenly peace in our lives in our joy and in our sorrow. Mary did this in spite of her frightening circumstances. Though with child herself, Mary made the three-day journey to visit her elderly cousin Elizabeth who was also pregnant. It’s unlikely that Mary’s family owned a donkey, so she probably walked the entire distance. Mary might have excused herself from tending to her cousin in light of her own predicament as an unwed mother-to-be. Her betrothed Joseph was home contemplating what to do about their impending marriage. Still, Mary reached deep within to embrace God’s peace. What’s more, she went on to share that peace with her cousin. Luke tells us that the moment Mary arrived, Elizabeth’s baby leapt in her womb. This tiny movement reassured Elizabeth. With absolute certainty that she was in God’s presence, Elizabeth asked, “And how does this happen to me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me? …Blessed are you who believed that what was spoken to you by the Lord would be fulfilled.” Elizabeth’s remarks encouraged Mary’s certainty regarding God’s love for her. After this visit, both Mary and Elizabeth basked in heavenly peace. Though what lay ahead would be trying at best for both women, they embraced the things to come with God at their sides.

Grandpa Mike and I never miss an opportunity to spend time with our grandchildren and their parents. We simply can’t resist them. Whether we’ve gathered for a soccer game, a birthday party or at someone’s bedside in a hospital, we find peace in one another’s company. Our love for each other hints at God’s love for us and it is in God’s love that we experience heavenly peace at its best. As this Fourth Sunday of Advent gives way to Christmas, I encourage you to unwrap the peace in every encounter which comes your way. Whether in our families, in our friendships or in the unexpected acquaintances whom we meet along the way, there is heavenly peace to be discovered. Yes, God is present among us and God gifts us with that presence in surprising ways! Merry Christmas!

©2018 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

God Looks After Us All!

My soul magnifies the Lord
and my spirit rejoices in God my savior,
for God has looked down upon this servant in her lowliness;
all ages to come shall call me blessed.

Luke 1:46-48

Many of the Christmas cards we’ve received this year feature images of Mary, Joseph and Jesus. Each one brings to mind my childhood impressions of Jesus’ family. I imagined Mary and Joseph full of joy, unable to contain their love for the child whom they awaited. In my innocence, I pictured a Hallmark Card birth. Full of peace, Mary and Joseph needed only to bow their heads in prayer and wait for Jesus to appear. “God will take care of everything!” I imagined them saying.

Life and the realities of Mary’s and Joseph’s day have taught me that things were not quite as easy for them as my childhood musings suggest. Mary embarked upon a treacherous journey when she became pregnant. She risked her very life as the consequences of a pregnancy out-of-wedlock were harsh at best. Mary survived because she and Joseph embraced God’s plans with absolute faith. Truly, it was Joseph’s willingness to cooperate in all of this which saved Mary. In spite of their trials and tribulations, Mary and Joseph trusted in God’s faithfulness to them. After Jesus’ birth, this trust would be tested and strengthened time and time again. Truly, their trust was well-placed.

Loving God, just as you were faithful to Mary and Joseph, you are faithful to me and to all of us. Strengthen us often with glimpses of your presence beside us and within us.

©2018 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Transformed By Love

All this is the work of the kindness of our God.
Luke 1:18

As I continue to prepare for Christmas, the wife, mom and grandma in me hope that everything will be perfect for the ones I love. Though I’ve done my best to prepare, one never knows what lies ahead. I consider the mother of Jesus and her plans. When Gabriel appeared to announce an alternative, the news must have startled Mary at best. “God’s Son? My Son? How can this possibly be?” Still, this brave teenager listened and opened herself to the challenges which lay ahead. Like every parent among us, Mary allowed her life to be changed forever by the child God had given her to love.

Within a week, we will celebrate Christmas. Life will likely be more hectic than any of us prefer. Still, we’ll adjust, refocus and embrace this precious time. The child who changed everything two millenniums ago remains among us to do the same today. Like our loved ones, this child seeks our attention, our focus and our love. Though our own children grow and leave home to make their own way as we did, Jesus never leaves. He grew and prospered, died and rose only to remain around us and within us every moment of our lives. So it is that Jesus asks that we do whatever we do with him in mind. Like our own children, that cute little babe in the manger makes unimaginably unexpected demands upon us. Like our own children, he rewards us with greater love than seems possible.

Dear God, thank you for transforming this world with your love.

©2018 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved