Time For New Life

A time to be born, and a time to die;
a time to plant, and a time to uproot the plant.

Ecclesiastes 3:2

Memories of the loss of my dad have stirred memories of another loss I experienced in July. This time, the year was 1999.

My friend battled cancer and, after long bouts with chemotherapy, John’s future seemed secure. He was a good man and a good priest. His life made all of the difference in the world all who knew him. Eventually, word spread that John had beaten the cancer and a collective sigh of relief rose to the heavens.

With this good news to inspire me, I headed to my computer to write my next article and to get a letter off to John. My poor friend was a captive fan to whom I mailed my reflections each week. I always included a letter to let him know that my husband and I were thinking about him. Because we would observe July 4th a few days later, the holiday set my tone. I wished John a generous measure of freedom with which to get on with his life. My litany began with “…freedom from illness, freedom to breathe in as deeply as you want to and with no pain! I wish you freedom from chemotherapy and I wish you hair! I wish you the freedom to get back to the people and the work you love and the freedom to come and go as you please.” I mailed that letter with a smile. I could hardly wait until John would once again be well enough to come over for dinner.

Sadly, John never read this particular letter. He returned to the hospital the day after its writing. Pneumonia had set in and John lacked the stamina to fight it. When John’s life among us ended, he embraced ultimate freedom.

While John enjoys life in the hereafter, I admit to a bit of melancholy. I still miss my friend.

Loving God, I think the most difficult part of this life is saying good-bye. Today, please touch the hearts of all who mourn with your peace.

©2020 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Share Your Wisdom Generously

Therefore I prayed, and prudence was given me;
I pleaded and God’s wisdom came to me.

Wisdom 7:7

Times are tough. When we lose a loved one and cannot mourn with those who love us, our pain is amplified beyond measure. Though I couldn’t be with a friend in this situation, I sent her a favorite book which might bring her a measure of peace. I spent far more time than necessary perusing the literary treasures which fill my bookshelves because I needed peace as well. Just reading the titles by these favorite authors eased my own worry.

Though our encounters weren’t face-to-face, these amazing authors changed my life. Elisabeth Kübler-Ross pioneered near-death experience studies. I first encountered her work during a college class on death and dying. The good doctor’s scientific research regarding life after this life underscored what I already believed to be true. Though she endured ridicule from the medical community, Kübler-Ross persisted. In the decades since, many medical professionals have substantiated and added to her research. More recent works by Dr. Eben Alexander and Dr. Mary C. Neal, now in my collection, describe their own near death experiences in detail.

While in college, I also read Holocaust Survivor and Nobel Laureate Elie Wiesel. This amazing man’s stalwart spirit sustained him through one of human history’s most heinous episodes. Just reading his name strengthened me for the day.

A decade ago, I encountered another author whose bravery took a slightly different turn. George Anderson was a very young boy when he almost lost his life to a terrible illness. When he recovered, little George realized that he’d endured this ordeal in the company of “friends” whom others were unable to see. This connection with loved ones and saints no longer present in this life set George apart in painful ways. When he reached adulthood, he realized that contact with these precious souls brought him closer to God. His book WALKING IN THE GARDEN OF SOULS has brought me the most consolation of all. His is the book I chose to share with my friend.

These authors aren’t the only ones meant to share their wisdom. You and I are also called to inspire others by revealing the treasures in our hearts. What better way is there to lead one another toward our new normal?

Generous God, be with us as we inspire one another with our personal varieties of wisdom.

©2020 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Memorial Day

For God loves the people,
and God rewards the lowly with victory.

Psalm 149:4

This morning, my thoughts turn to our service men and women, present and past. These brave souls accepted an obligation which had or has the potential to take them to the point of death. Though some battled doubt along the way, wondering if anything is worth dying for, each one responded to duty’s call. Today, their present-day comrades in so many essential jobs carry on for us. Today, I honor each one with my gratitude and with my prayers.

More than ever today, we include all of our loved ones who’ve passed from this life to the next in our Memorial Day remembrances. Whether our parent, our spouse, our child, or family member or friend, those whom we mourn accepted their obligations as well. At times, they succeeded and their impacts upon our lives were sources of joy. At times, they failed and their impacts upon us were precisely the opposite. Still, we mourn our lost loved ones, sometimes because of their humanity and sometimes in spite of it.

This Memorial Day, let’s celebrate life after this life in the names of those who know it firsthand. Let’s also celebrate the everlasting and unconditional love which prompted our beloved Creator to embrace them in spite of their frailties and perhaps because of them. This Memorial Day, let’s celebrate because, when our time comes, God will offer the same welcome to you and me.

Thank you, Dear God, for the promise of new life with you and for the loved ones with whom we will share it!

©2020 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Delivered From Our Fears

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

Psalm 34:5

Loss is tough. For several weeks now, all of us have experienced the loss of our ability to come and go as we please. We choose to cooperate in all of this out of concern for our fellow humans, our loved ones and our own well-being. Still, this loss stings more than we’d like. Sadly, all of the losses which accompany simply being human remain with us as well.

Relationships have been cut short by misunderstandings or by being separated. Loved ones have been lost to illnesses that were already in place and to COVID-19. For many, familiar workplaces and parks and neighborhoods are beyond reach. It’s no wonder that so many of us suffer with feelings of abandonment, loneliness and hopelessness. We wonder if we will ever fill the emptiness around us and within us.

When I begin to sense that emptiness, I do what comes most naturally. I turn my eyes upward. However, before I can form the words to complain to God above, God reminds me of the goodness around me: The smile of a knowing friend; the song of a mother who will love her child forever; an artist’s rendition of sinful son embraced by his dad’s all-loving arms; the encouragement of a fellow writer; the faces of parents and grandparents, spouses and significant others, sisters, brother, sons, daughters and friends who stick with us in the best and worst of times. Add to this today’s news which is filled with images of healthcare and other essential workers who put their lives at risk every day for you and me.

You know, in spite of the clouds that threaten outside my window as I write, I’m sunny as can be inside. Indeed, God has delivered from all of my fears through the goodness of the extraordinary people who grace my life.

Loving God, thank you for being with us in everyone and everything around us!

©2020 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Loved, Both Near and Far

A time to scatter stones, and a time to gather them;
a time to embrace, and a time to be far from embraces.

Ecclesiastes 3:5

As a proponent of order, it’s unlikely that I’ll ever embrace the opportunity to scatter stones. I’m more likely to arrange them into neat piles or rows. I’m even less likely to choose to be far from embraces. The human touch is extremely important to me and I can’t imagine ever situating myself far enough from my fellow humans to preclude hugging. Oops! What was that? Today, like you, I’m situated so far from my fellow humans that it’s impossible to see them, much less hug them!

As is my custom, when I’m uncertain of what to write next, I peek out of my window and then upward. After looking at the sunshine outdoors, I turned my eyes upward. In the process, I caught a glimpse of my mom’s picture. Before I had the chance to ask her how she would deal with COVID-19, memories of her last hour filled me up…

My mom had drifted into a coma. We knew the remainder of her time among us could be counted in hours. That night, I couldn’t bring myself to leave her. It was forty minutes after my sisters left when I realized the error of my ways. When our mom received her terminal diagnosis, she was quite specific regarding where she would breathe her last. She had no intention of passing on to eternity from any of our homes. Our mom couldn’t bear to leave us with that memory. My presence at her bedside had obviously interfered with my mom’s intent. After kissing her one last time, I drove home. Ten minutes after I arrived, the phone rang. My mom had taken her leave of this life shortly after I’d left her.

Sometimes, we need to leave the proximity of those all-important embraces in order to deal with our most important work. My mom needed the space to embrace eternal life on her own terms. Today, you and I need the space to keep one another healthy and safe. So it is that we love one another from afar as best we can.

Patient God, nudge me when it’s time to embrace those you have given me to love. Nudge me a bit harder when it’s time for me to step back and allow you to take care.

©2020 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Always In Good Company

“My children, I will be with you only a little while longer.”
John 13:33

While in Israel, I overheard two travelers from another group consoling one another over a friend who was unable to join them for their trip. The person who couldn’t travel with them had been ill and didn’t recover as quickly as they’d hoped. Because these three considered this trip to Israel to be a once-in-a-lifetime event, this turn of events anguished them all. The two who had made it consoled one another with their promise to pray at every holy place they visited for the person they’d unwillingly left behind. Their tone indicated that this illness might be their friend’s last.

As Holy Week approaches, I imagine conversations regarding Jesus’ situation among his friends. I suppose none of them were anxious to return to Jerusalem with so much uncertainty regarding Jesus’ work. Where would Jesus’ teaching take him? Where would it take them? Was Judas already expressing concern regarding all of this? Were the others happy to follow their teacher or were they struggling with worry as well?

Those fellow travelers found consolation in praying for their sick friend. She would be with them in spirit as they expressed their concern for her to God. The poor disciples weren’t as adept at prayer as those travelers who had to leave their friend behind. Though they had Jesus in their midst, they weren’t certain of what to make of his presence in their lives. Though they’d witnessed so much, they’re weren’t privy to The Big Picture.

These days, I find myself in the shoes of the uncertain disciples. Like them, I sometimes wonder what will come next. It is then that I focus on The Big Picture. It is then that I remind myself that God is with us all regardless of where this journey with COVID-19 takes us next.

Loving God, help me to be patient with others and with myself as we puzzle over all of this. Help us to remember that you are with us though it all.

©2020 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved