Live with Faith, Hope and God’s Love!

This week, I’ll celebrate my parents’ seventy-seventh wedding anniversary. While my mom and dad will observe this special day in a place far better than our troubled world, I’ll reminisce over old photos and poignant memories. I’m tempted to long for the simpler times my parents seemed to enjoy, but I cannot. Life was no easier for them than it is for us these days. Though the details of our circumstances differ, similar pain has punctuated human history since our beginning. One of the treasures my mom left is an album in which she mounted the bridal shower and wedding cards she and my dad received. These treasures get to the heart of everything of importance to us as we journey through this life and beyond. I’m certain they inspired my parents’ efforts in this regard…

I opened my mom’s album and considered each page of cards. These tiny treasures measure no more than three inches or four inches in height and width. Still, in spite of their diminutive size, they carry grand wishes. The personal notes added to manufactured verses speak eloquently of each sender’s love for my future parents. The various signatures elicited images of family members and friends from long ago. As I thumbed through the yellowed pages, one letter-sized paper stood out. I wondered who might have sent this particular greeting. As I read, I discovered perhaps the most touching message of them all. It was written by the president of the company for which my mom worked. Here is what that extremely wise man had to say: “Dear Rita: I am happy to learn that you are to be married on Saturday and want to extend my best wishes to you and your husband. May your wedded life be full of joy and happiness. Do not let the present gloomy world conditions put a damper on your hopes and ambitions. Marriage is a wonderful venture in life and I know it is going to mean much happiness to you both in the years to come. With kindest regards, I remain… W. R. Barker”

My parents married in 1942. World War II raged and times were tough. Many family members and friends served in the military. The damage done by a childhood bout with rheumatic fever kept my father from joining them. My mom had been working for years by then. She took a job during high school because her family needed the added income to get by. My mom’s single regret was her inability to attend college. Neither she nor her parents could afford the tuition. I’m certain that meeting my dad dulled the sting of that unrealized dream as a new dream took shape in their relationship. Indeed, my parents’ wedding day proved to be the first of 6,112 amazing days together. It seems Mr. Barker knew the potential for joy which my parents realized throughout the years ahead. His letter summed up everything that we can hope for in this life: A measure of happiness, the love of others, encouragement in spite of troubling times and friends who stand at our sides. Apparently, my mom appreciated Mr. Barker’s sentiments because his letter is displayed quite beautifully in her album. My mother’s grateful approach to her circumstances over the years since convince me that she took Mr. Barker’s sentiments to heart. Yes, our hopes and ambitions and love make all of the difference regardless of the conditions around us.

Mr. Barker’s words touched me as well because they reflect the love which Jesus exhibited when he met a group of lepers one day. Luke’s gospel (Luke 17:11-19) tells us that, when they saw him, these suffering men cried out, “Jesus! Master! Have pity on us!” Jesus felt their pain as only Jesus could. Without hesitation, he sent the men to show themselves to the priests of the temple. On their way, one leper realized he was healed. While the others went on to have themselves declared cured, this man raced back and fell at Jesus’ feet. Though the others certainly realized what had occurred, only this man returned. Could it be that he recognized a more significant blessing? Indeed, he had encountered the Lord! Not only was his body made whole, but his spirit had also been revived by God’s all-encompassing love. This grateful one-time leper realized that he would flourish in spite of the world’s gloomy conditions because he was loved. God’s love would ensure that nothing would ever again put a damper on this man’s hopes and ambitions. He returned to say “Thank you, Lord!” for good reason!

As I consider the wedding greetings which fill my mom’s album, I realize she kept them for good reason. They provided a constant reminder of the love which surrounded her and my dad as they began their life together. Just as the leper’s healing reminded him of God’s healing love in his life, my mother’s album kept her cognizant of God and all of the loved ones who walked this life’s journey with her. It seems that Mr. Barker described perfectly how the cured man and we should respond to God’s love in our lives: We must never allow gloomy world conditions to put a damper on our hopes and dreams. We must embrace this life as the wonderful venture it is. God’s love will bring happiness to us in the days ahead both here and in heaven above.

©2019 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

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We Can Do It!

The Pharisees came forward and began to argue with Jesus.
They were looking for some heavenly sign from him as a test.

Mark 8:11

It’s never been easy for me to stand by and watch the suffering of those around me. Whether they are my own family members, dear friends, a street person or children brutalized half a world away, I find it impossible to accept that there is nothing I can do to help. It is in the midst of this frustration that I become like the Pharisees of old. They badgered Jesus for signs from above to legitimize his preaching. I find myself groaning as they did: “If only you would show yourself to those in power, they’d do something to fix this mess!” I realize that repairing this world is a multi-leveled task. It seems to me that a change of heart among the higher-ups and the rest of us would certainly help.

After behaving like a Pharisee and demanding God’s intervention, God remains in the quiet of my heart. God needs not to utter a single word because I already know the solution. God leaves it to each one of us to do the best we can as we see it. Whether we are a higher-up or one of the rest of us, each of us is charged with the responsibility to do the best we can to fix things. Each of us is also given the free will to opt in or to opt out of caring for others. God’s assistance comes from within our hearts and in the example of people of good will who urge us to bring love and peace to the moment at hand. Every time we respond, we will transform this world one loving act at a time.

Patient God, forgive my impatience with others and with You. Help me and all of us to do what we can to love those we have been given to love, here and everywhere.

©2019 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Hope… Even At The Mall!

Peter said, “I have neither silver nor gold,
but what I do have I give you: in the name of
Jesus Christ the Nazarene, rise and walk.”

Acts 3:6

I’d ignored my sadness for weeks due to the numerous tasks at hand. With my Lenten and Easter to-do lists complete, those buried emotions rose to the surface. I decided to walk because the fresh air always seems to rejuvenate me regardless of the condition of my psyche. Unfortunately, rain coaxed me to the mall to stretch my legs and my spirit.

That pouring rain proved to be a blessing. As I walked indoors, I ran into a friend who had recently survived a seemingly hopeless ordeal. Though that topic never entered into our conversation, the joy with which she embraces every new day was unmistakable. Still, in spite of her miraculous outcome, my friend has not forgotten the pain of her grim journey. So it was that, after allowing me to bare my soul, she hugged me. “Mary, you have reason to feel they way you do. The good news is that there is light at the end of the tunnel and you will find it!”

I walked away from that conversation feeling a lot better and a little silly. My dear friend had survived cancer though she was not expected to live. I was surviving raw emotions which didn’t come close threatening my life. For the rest of that walk, I thanked God for the numerous and abundant blessings which have come my way, especially for that wonderful friend!

Loving God, you sprinkle morsels of hope and encouragement in the most unexpected, but opportune places. Thank you!

©2019 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

At Home and Then Some…

Give to the man who begs from you.
Do not turn your back on the borrower.

Matthew 5:42

The other day, someone requested my help. Before finding out precisely what I needed to do to be of assistance, I decided that I wasn’t going to get involved. Having said this, I admit that I’m convinced that there are no coincidences and that people wander onto my path for a reason. Still, I was so busy and so tired at the time that I decided to stick to my plan not to get involved… So much for my plan! After talking with my new friend for a few minutes, I decided I would indeed help with what needed to be done. On the way home from this encounter, I happily thanked God for the opportunity to bring a bit of love into this person’s life.

This adventure has given me insight into Jesus’ life. Jesus found it impossible to resist a troubled soul. Jesus stopped in the midst of what he was doing whenever he saw a soul in need. The gospels are filled with story after story of Jesus’ efforts to bring a word of consolation and to heal to a suffering person. Whether their illnesses were of the body of the spirit, Jesus stopped to do whatever he could do for those in need.

I think Jesus never tired of reaching out to those in need because he couldn’t help loving them. If my adventure is any indication, Jesus also appreciated the joy which comes with helping someone. Though I still contend that charity does begin at home, with practice we can somehow manage to help those beyond our front doors.

Loving God, no wonder you ask us to love one another!

©2019 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Encouraged!

Jesus told him, “Go home to your family and tell them what God has done for you!”
At that the man went out to proclaim throughout the Ten Cities what Jesus had done…

From Mark 5:19-20

While growing up, I had visions of grandeur regarding what I would do with my life. I wanted to solve the problems of the world. I wanted to end wars. I wanted to fight against prejudice and injustice. I wanted to end poverty. I wanted to work with special needs children. I wanted to teach. I wanted to become a nun. I wanted to become a nurse…

When things began to fall into place, the path before me became less cluttered. I learned to value the seemingly mundane callings which in reality make all of the difference in the world. A good person who deals fairly and kindly with those around her brings peace to our world. Generous couples who allow their love to spill over onto to those around them bring love to the world. Parents who nurture their children with their time and attention bring hope to this world. Caring for those we have been given to love is the most important work we can do.

The truth is that I still want to solve the problems of the world, to end wars and poverty and to fight against prejudice and injustice. This time around, I’m tackling each of these with one loving act at a time.

Dear God, when I wonder if I’m doing my loved ones or this world any good, you dispel my doubt with encouragement. Thank you!

©2019 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

God’s in The Midst of Everything!

Though Christmas 2018 already seems a distant memory, I won’t soon forget my husband’s gift to me. Mike knows that I truly enjoy live theater. After investigating the current shows, he opted to purchase tickets for Fiddler on the Roof. Mike discovered that tickets were still available for the play’s final week. All was going well until it came time to select seats online. The two “best available” options were on the aisle of the first row center on the main floor and on the aisle of the first row center of the loge. Since both sets of tickets were offered at the same price, Mike had no clue which were the better option. Would I prefer to be up close and personal with the cast or to have a panoramic view of the entire stage? Brilliant spouse that he is, Mike decided that my input regarding seats was more important than my being surprised on Christmas morning. When posed with my options, it took only a moment for me to announce, “Front row center for sure!” Two weeks ago, when we made our way to those seats, I knew that we wouldn’t be disappointed. It was during the first scene that lead character Tevye and his fellow villagers made it clear that they were performing just for Mike and me.

Though I can sing most of the show’s tunes from memory, I’d forgotten the details of the plot until Tevye, his family and their neighbors gave life to the story. The drama unfolded in a small early Twentieth Century Russian village where most of the inhabitants were of Jewish heritage. Tevye, husband to Golde and father to five daughters, was steeped in the traditions dictated by his culture and his faith. Tevye’s relationship with God became evident when Tevye revealed his favorite form of prayer. Whenever things were very good, very bad and everywhere in between, Tevye turned his eyes upward to address the Lord God directly. Tevye’s trust in God was so great that, after posing his requests, he always added, “But on the other hand…” Tevye always left the final say to God. Though the rest of the audience seemed to find Tevye’s prayer amusing, I squirmed in my seat. This lovable man’s efforts echoed my own prayer far too closely. I’m embarrassed to admit that Tevye’s sometimes sarcastic tone toward God sounded a bit too familiar. Though I squirmed a little more at this realization, Tevye seemed unperturbed. Every time he turned toward God, Tevye was confident that God heard him, that God was indeed in charge and that God would respond appropriately. Even in the midst of the darkest turns of events, Tevye persisted in his prayer. No one in that village was closer to God than Tevye and I want to be like him in that regard.

I share my encounter with Tevye and Fiddler on the Roof because the mother of Jesus addressed her son with Tevye’s confidents. Today, we hear the passage from John’s gospel (John 2:1-11) which recounts Jesus’ first miracle. Jesus and his family attended their neighbors’ wedding. Not long into the festivities, Mary heard that the couple was running out of wine. She immediately approached Jesus for help. Jesus, who was slowly easing into his ministry, told his mother that “his hour” hadn’t yet come. Mary, seemingly oblivious to her son’s reply, simply told the stewards to do whatever Jesus asked. Like Tevye, Mary was certain that Jesus had heard her, that Jesus was in charge and that Jesus would respond appropriately.

Though none of us know much about the lifetime of interactions Mary and Jesus shared before that wedding. I can tell you that Tevye had experienced a lifetime of grueling toil, persistent poverty and persecution before I met him in the theater that night. His experiences in that small Russian village proved to be very similar to Mary’s and her family’s experience in Nazareth. Though they were God-loving people who followed their faith’s traditions devoutly, Mary’s family endured persecution at the hands of their Roman government and its unscrupulous agents. Yet, in spite of their suffering, Mary and her family turned to God. In their joy and in their sorrow, they had prayed as Tevye learned to pray centuries later. It’s no wonder that Mary turned to Jesus with complete confidence.

If you’ve listened to the news lately or read the paper, if you’ve looked down the street or into your own backyard, you’ve likely seen evidence of joy and evidence of suffering in its too numerous insidious forms. When it comes to things being very good, very bad and everywhere in between, our experiences aren’t very different from those of Tevye’s and Jesus’ families. It seems to me that the moral of the story is this: God hears us, God is indeed in charge and God always does and will continue to respond appropriately. All that we are asked to do in the midst of any situation is the best that we can. Then, we must raise our eyes to heaven up close and personally as Mary and Tevye did. With their confidence, we must invite God into the best and worst times of our lives and into everything in between. The truth is that, whether we turn to God or not, God is with us!

©2019 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved