The God of Love

While enjoying various gatherings over the past few weeks, several family members and friends asked me to pray for them. In the midst of the revelry of the moment, those making these requests had apparently held on to their strong belief in the power of prayer. Each one seemed convinced that his or her request for prayers was the most sensible action to take at the moment. Each one also seemed to do so with the full expectation that any prayers offered on their behalf would certainly be heard. Since I share these convictions, I happily agreed to pray as best I could for each one. At the same time, I puzzled a bit over their timing. That these family members and friends were thinking about God in the midst of various festivities touched me deeply. I wondered what it is about this God of ours that inspires us to pray twenty-four seven regardless of where were are and whom we are with. Though I can’t be certain of anyone else’s experiences of God, I can share my own adventures in this regard…

As a child, I often puzzled over the things I learned about God. I imagined God to be the kindly and caring Creator who appeared in our children’s bible. I still remember the rendering of God looking lovingly upon Adam and Eve and the menagerie of animals provided to keep them company. My experiences within my family confirmed my impressions. I was only five when my uncle became ill. The 1950s offered no antibiotics to fight pneumonia. The curvature of my uncle’s spine further complicated his condition. As a very young child, Uncle Gee contracted polio which left his spine severely bent and compromised his breathing. When he first became ill, we gathered in the living room to say the rosary for our uncle’s recovery every night. When it became evident that he wouldn’t survive, my mom changed our intention from “a full recovery” to “a happy death.” Because this dear uncle lived with us, his looming loss was devastating. My dad responded by assuring us that all would be well. My dad held us close as he explained that Uncle Gee was going to heaven. My dad insisted that everything in heaven is perfect and that God would make our uncle perfect as well. The pneumonia would be gone and Uncle Gee’s back would be as straight as can be. When my uncle passed away a few days later, I cried because I would miss him. Still, I knew that all was well. God came through for my uncle and God would do the same for both of my grandpas and my dad who passed away just a few years later.

As I grew into a second grader, I continued to puzzle over the things I learned about God. Though I’d known about Jesus, I didn’t consider how Jesus fit into my image of God until the year I received First Communion. I listened carefully to all I was taught about Jesus. I found that my image of Jesus was quite tangible. I liked the things Jesus said. The parables Jesus told concurred with the image I had of my kindly and caring Creator. All that Jesus did illustrated the magnitude of God’s love for me and for everyone else. Young as I was, I found great joy and great consolation in the knowledge that, no matter what I did, God would always love me.

It was on or about my thirteenth birthday that the things which seemed so clear a year or month or day earlier became inexplicably murky. While I continued to puzzle over the things I’d learned about God, I realized that life in this world isn’t at all perfect. Sometimes the adults around me disappointed me. What was worse, when I looked in the mirror, the sweet little girl I used to see had morphed into someone I hardly recognized. Though the adults around me continued to share their wisdom regarding God, I puzzled over my impressions of God all the more. Fortunately, Confirmation approached and becoming an adult Christian became the topic of the year. I had plenty of opportunities to puzzle over every sort of “what if” scenario. “How would an adult Christian respond?” my teachers asked. In the end, my classmates and I learned that our choices would grow in difficulty and in importance as we grew older. In the end, we also understood that we didn’t have to make those difficult choices alone. God’s Holy Spirit would inspire and strengthen us, clarifying the situation every step of the way until we made our own ways home to heaven. Once again, I liked what I heard regarding the constancy of God’s love for me. Perhaps all of those who’ve asked me to pray for them in recent days have become convinced of the same. Perhaps this is what a lifetime of friendship with God does for us!

This is Trinity Sunday and we celebrate God in all of God’s wonderful glory! Though my childhood musings cannot begin to explain the Trinity, Jesus did so again and again. In everything he said and did, Jesus insisted that ours is the God of Love, the all-caring Creator who breathed life into each of us. Through his life among us, Jesus revealed that ours is the God of Love who became one of us to reveal the true happiness found in caring for one another and in opening our hearts to God’s love. When Jesus’ life among us neared its end, Jesus promised us all a lifetime of encounters with the God of Love whose Spirit comes in the raging winds and the gentle whispers which urge us on to do our best and to be our best. Yes, on this Trinity Sunday, we celebrate our lifelong friendships with God, the God of Love who remains with us and within us though everything. We celebrate God who hears our every prayerful request and who responds with perfect love!

©2019 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

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God’s Call to Love

Thus says the Lord God: I, too, will take from the crest of the cedar,
from its topmost branches tear off a tender shoot,
and plant it on a high and lofty mountain;
on the mountain heights of Israel I will plant it.
It shall put forth branches and bear fruit, and become a majestic cedar.

Ezekiel 17:22-24

After finalizing Father’s Day plans with our sons and daughters-in-law, I got offline with the hope of tending to some writing. Before opening my file, I glanced toward the window for a peek at summer’s greenery. Nature always inspires me and I expected this glimpse to be no exception. Much to my surprise, my gaze never made it to the huge blue spruce that rests just beyond the glass. A photo on the file cabinet in front of the window caught my attention first. There were our sons with their wives and our grandchildren. Mike and I couldn’t have smiled more broadly as we posed that day. When we’re surrounded by our family, we’re in the happiest of places. It occurred to me that Mike’s and my smiles in that photo might actually have competed with our grins the day we received the news that we were expecting our first baby. Though neither Mike nor I knew much about parenting at the time, we did know that this news was the start of the most important and exciting time of our lives. Over the years, we’ve used many other mostly positive adjectives to describe our stints as Dad and Mom. In the end, we wouldn’t trade these roles for anything. How grateful we are for this family of ours!

When I turned back to my keyboard to open that file, a photo on the bookcase next to me also caught my eye. There I saw the first family which gave me an appetite for the joy I’ve found in my own. This photo was taken when I was six years old. My siblings were fourteen, twelve, four, three and fifteen months. We’d posed in front of our house on Easter Sunday just two years before my dad passed away. I reminded myself of how fortunate I am to have memories of my dad. My youngest sister knows him only from pictures. The next youngest was only five years old when our dad passed away. Though her memories included only a few fleeting images of him, my sister observed more than once that our dad loved her very much. She assured us that this had to be the case because she’d felt the absence of that love ever since. My best “Daddy memory” is bath time. The four youngest of us played together in the tub for as long as our parents could tolerate it or until the water cooled a bit too much. Then, our mom quickly washed and rinsed each of us, usually in the order of our ages. One at a time, we ran across the bathroom floor from our mom to our dad, giggling all the while. Daddy dried us off and dressed us in our pajamas. The goal of all of this was to get us into bed before my dad left for his night shift at the railroad yard. I wondered when we realized that this scene would be repeated only a few more times…

My brother, my sisters and I each responded to the loss of our dad differently. Still, the pain of his absence remains a constant in our lives. This good man, husband and father impacted his family as no one else could have. When we’re touched with great happiness, we miss sharing the good news with him. When we find ourselves in turmoil, we long for the embrace of his caring arms. Sometimes, we simply want to share the mundane details of a boring day with him. Our dad is a very funny guy who would likely turn our monotonous moaning into an amusing anecdote, if only he could. Like my younger sister, I know that our dad loved each of us as best he could. Perhaps the greatest impact of his love for me is manifested in my relationships with my sons. Mike’s dad certainly did the same for him. From the time we knew they were on the way, we loved our sons. When each of them was born, Mike and I felt as though we’d known them forever. We spent every available minute with them. Though this sometimes required very efficient tweaking of our work schedules and adjusting or ignoring our social calendars, we gladly spent our time with our boys. After all, Mike is the only dad our sons will have and I am their only mom.

I cited the quote above from Ezekiel because God’s intent is precise in this message. God created something amazing in each one of us. Just as God took that tender shoot from a cedar tree and planted it in a place where it would flourish, God has planted you and me precisely where we are meant to be. Just as God provided the sun, rain and soil needed to nourish that tree, God does the same for you and me. All the while, God hopes that we will do the same for one another. If you question the value of your life, take it from this daughter that the eight years I shared with my dad meant everything to me. Every day that you have with those you have been given to love is equally valuable. With that, I wish the dads among us a very Happy Father’s Day! I wish the rest of us the grace we need to follow their leads and God’s by nurturing those we’ve been given to love as only we can.

©2018 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Teach God’s Little Ones Well…

The child grew and became strong in spirit…
Luke 1:80

My husband enjoys numerous friends on Facebook many of whom are former students of ours. He was a school principal in the school district where I taught. As a result, we often interacted with the same students in spite of our assignments in different buildings. Occasionally, one of these kids dared to ask me about the difference in Mike’s and my demeanor. They noted that I seemed far more cheerful than he most of the time. I always laughed while explaining that my role as a reading teacher was far less taxing than my husband’s role as principal of 500 or more students. Though the kids never quite understood at the time, their Facebook interactions with their former principal indicate that, now that they are parents, they understand completely.

Several years ago, I was fascinated by the title of a book written about all of the things we learn in kindergarten. The author asserted that he’d learned everything he needed to know for the rest of his life during that first year of his education. Though I’d like to think that my husband and I added to our students’ wisdom long after kindergarten, I do understand what this author was getting at. It seems to me that we need to be ever-mindful of the lessons we offer the children in our midst. The things learned at home, at school and everywhere else when we’re young have lifelong ramifications. As adults, it’s up to us to ensure that our example offers our best to all of the children who grace our lives.

Loving God, help us to teach the children among us as you would.

©2018 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Changing Time?

A time to kill, and a time to heal;
a time to tear down, and a time to build.

Ecclesiastes 3:3

Change is difficult for me, especially when my established routines prove to be helpful to all concerned. “Why change what is working?” I ask myself.

The problem is that I don’t always evaluate what “working” actually means. Is the status quo simply maintaining my peace of mind or is something positive actually being accomplished? Is adhering to what I am used to adding to the quality of my life and the lives of those around me or is it allowing a musty fog to blur the wonder left to discover? Even when I answer these questions honestly for myself, my responses don’t always agree with those around me. Then what?

Change is difficult for me. Still, discarding a bit of what I’m used to may bring new life to my sometimes stunted spirit. Because change is difficult for me, I’ll consult with my God who never changes along the way…

Loving God, give me the courage to let go of my routines and to embrace the opportunities which lie ahead. Be with me as I muster the courage to take that first step.

©2018 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Who Do You Say That I am?

Who do you say that I am? Luke’s gospel (9:18-24) tells us that when Jesus posed this question, Peter responded immediately. Matthew’s and Mark’s accounts indicate the same which confirms what we already know: Peter typically replied to Jesus’ queries without hesitation. Sometimes, this promptness served him well. Sometimes, a bit of forethought might have saved Peter a good deal of heartache. I’m afraid that over the years I’ve shared Peter’s propensity to respond quickly with similar results. At times, hurriedly speaking up remedied tough situations. At other times, I made things worse by opening my mouth before my good sense filtered out words which should have remained unspoken. My timing continues to be flawed in many ways. Still, moments spent considering Jesus’ question are perfectly timed. Here is my answer, Lord…

Who do you say that I am? My earliest memories include strolls down the block to church. Sundays always included Mass and dinner in the dining room. Since stores and other businesses were closed, Sunday provided the perfect opportunity to rest and regroup as a family. During the hectic days in between, we acknowledged God in the midst of and in spite of our family circus. Joyful milestones prompted prayers of thanksgiving, while sorrowful events elicited earnest prayer for God’s care. As a child, the most important constant in my life beside my parents was God’s presence. You are the One who is always with us.

Who do you say that I am? As I grew, I learned a good deal about love. I found that more than anything else we all want to be loved. Even when we behave as though we don’t need others, we need someone to love and someone to love us. My parents and our extended family loved me each in his or her own way as best they could. My brother and sisters loved me, too. Still, there were days when I felt that I was not at all lovable and that I was not at all loved. I ended those days with an aching heart. It was on such nights that I turned my seemingly un-lovable self to God. You are the One who always listens.

Who do you say that I am? I clearly recall being angry with God at age sixteen. I knew deep down that I was drawn to the convent. I loved my aunts, Sister Gerard, Sister Ida Marie and Sister Marie Raoul, and I loved many of the sisters whom I’d met along the way. I had little patience with trivial pursuits. I cared about the poor and the outcasts who struggled to survive on the fringe of teenage life. I felt deep compassion for my mom who worked much harder than she should have had to work. I avoided getting into trouble because I couldn’t bear to give her anything more to worry about. I was angry because, just once, I wanted to be a “normal” person who didn’t worry quite so much about everyone and everything. I didn’t realize that there were lots of “normal” people around me whose concern caused them to worry just as much as I did. Angry as I was with God for making me who I am, God never stopped peeking around corners, showing up on a sunny day and smiling through the face of a friend who understood. You are the one who remains faithful to us.

Who do you say that I am? As it happened, opportunity knocked and I finally realized that God had gifted me with free will. I decided to spend a summer during college living with two nuns. We taught English to Spanish-speaking children to prepare them for the coming school year. Sister Liz and Sister Rose taught me to enjoy life a bit more and to worry a bit less. They also encouraged me to accept a date with the handsome young teacher who was hanging out at the rectory. The following year, I completed college, secured a teaching job for the fall and married that teacher during the summer in between. You are the God of Surprises.

Who do you say that I am? Today, I find God in our sons, our daughters-in-law and our grandchildren. As we celebrate Father’s Day, my husband and I enjoy a glimpse of love-fulfilled in the remarkable people whom we are blessed to call our family. Regardless of the challenges along the way, our love for this family and their love for us carries us through. If that isn’t enough, we are blessed with many friends who do the same. In all of this, I see that God has been with me during my happiest, loneliest, most frightening and challenging moments. As I smile and cry, dance and sing, fret and rejoice along the way, God is with me. When you smile and cry, dance and sing, fret and rejoice along the way, God is with you as well. Who do you say that I am? You are the God of Unconditional and Unending Love.

©2016 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved