Loved, Always Loved…

This morning, I woke with a sense of gratitude in anticipation of Thanksgiving Day. Though I’d like to think that I’m a grateful person, this sentiment took me by surprise. Like so many of us, on Thanksgiving 2020, my husband and I won’t gather with our entire family to enjoy our Thanksgiving meal together. This year, Mike’s and our younger son’s birthdays fall during Thanksgiving week. Our observances in their honor will differ as well. Still, I must finally be adapting to our new normal because these realizations didn’t dispel the gratitude with which I woke. With that, I made a mental list of the gifts for which I’m most grateful. My family and the numerous others whom I’ve been given to love top that list. God has been extremely generous to me in this regard. As I contemplate further, I must acknowledge that God has been extremely generous to me in everything!

God… It occurs to me that it has always come naturally to me to include God in every aspect of my life. “When did this relationship begin?” I ask myself. While my dear husband tends to something in the garage, I’ll ponder this question in the chilly, but sunny outdoors. As I walk along, I recall the nighttime prayers of my childhood. I always asked forgiveness for the day’s misdeeds and blessings for those in need. Our family is large and at least one of us requires prayers much of the time. Back then, I relied upon our Creator God for everything. These nighttime litanies always began with, “Dear God…” Later, when First Communion Day approached and my catechism classes focused upon Jesus, things changed. While I held on to my awe for the God who made us and tends to all of our needs, I was also completely taken in by this Jesus who became one of us and who experienced all of our trials and tribulations firsthand.

Jesus, son of Mary, grew up in the small village of Nazareth. Jesus, cousin to John the Baptizer, worked as an apprentice stonemason with his father Joseph. Jesus, friend to the couple who married at Cana, helped out when their wine ran out. Jesus the Rabbi taught with authority in the temple. This made him a threat to the temple hierarchy and a source of inspiration to the people. Jesus the Storyteller used his parables to reveal God’s compassion, mercy and love. Jesus was hope personified to the hemorrhaging woman, the blind man, the lepers, the paralytic, Martha and Mary and the thief who hung on the cross next to him. Jesus was life itself to the woman caught in adultery, to Jairus’ daughter and to Lazarus. Jesus the Servant washed his friends’ feet at their last supper together. Jesus the Risen One made the promise of life everlasting a reality for us all.

As I continue this morning’s walk, it occurs to me that becoming better acquainted with Jesus was a game-changer in my life. Until then, I’d made many assumptions regarding God’s love, mercy and forgiveness. My faith assured me that God offered these things to me on an ongoing basis. When I encountered Jesus and learned all that he did for others, my assumptions about God became reality. I no longer needed to rely upon my faith because Jesus showed me that everything I believed about God’s love for me is absolutely true.

As I walk toward home, I return my thoughts to Thanksgiving 2020, to my unshakable gratitude and to God’s presence in my life. Something more occurs to me. I realize that both my awareness of God’s presence in my life and my sense of gratitude deepened as a the result of my acquaintance with Jesus. As I sit at my desk to begin this writing, I determine that today’s Feast of Christ the King is the perfect end to the Church Year, the perfect beginning to Thanksgiving Week and the perfect prelude to the Advent Season which will begin next Sunday. Who better than Jesus can inspire our hearts to be grateful in the face everything that lies ahead?

You know, Year 2020 has taught us that none of us can predict all that today, much less the coming week or month or year will bring. What we can be certain of is God’s affection for us. If you doubt God’s love for you, turn to the life of the beloved king whom we honor today. Though Jesus shied away from this title, Jesus embraced every opportunity to “reign” God’s love over the people in the midst of the wear and tear of their lives. Jesus shared God’s love so perfectly that he could never pass by a soul in need without stopping to help. The same is true today.

Meeting Jesus has helped me to experience God’s love quite tangibly in the joyful and the troubling times of my life. On this Feast of Christ the King, I celebrate Jesus with gratitude and I invite you to do the same. After all, Jesus’ words and works assure us all of how precious we are in God’s eyes. Even today in the midst of this sadly remarkable year, Jesus’ words and works assure us that all will be well in the end.

©2020 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Share It All

O God, let all your works give you thanks, O Lord,
and let your faithful ones bless you.

Psalm 145:10

Perhaps I feel this way because I was recently thinking about how different Thanksgiving Day will be this year…

This morning, as soon as I established my pace as I walked, feelings of gratitude overwhelmed me. Now I admit that I’m a creature of habit who walks the same route almost every single time I venture out. Still, the blue of the sky or changes in the trees which I’ve seen a hundred times fill me with awe. The familiar barren branches looming overhead reveal new knots and gnarls every time I pass beneath them. Chirping birds who should be well on their way south are the frosting on the cake. Even drizzling rain gives me reason to feel grateful.

In spite of these worrisome days, I’ve been an unwitting student of Creation’s wisdom during my treks outdoors. The clouded blue sky that beckons my eyes toward heaven and the trees who continuously raise their arms upward remind me to do the same. Their very existence points to God’s glory. Perhaps my existence on this earth is meant to point others in heaven’s direction as well. Like Nature around me, perhaps I’m meant to do this with a spirit of gratitude. Even as I stumble through this pandemic, our nation’s unrest and the numerous ills which hurt so many, God calls me to show others the way. Being a part of God’s creation is a privilege and an honor, something for which to be extremely thankful and something to share.

Generous God, help me to share your gifts with all of those I meet along the way.

©2020 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Restored Once Again

…God leads me beside still waters
and restores my soul.

Psalm 23:2-3

It was a new morning, but the same old routine. Once again, I ran from the moment I woke. Before thinking about another of my Sunday reflections, I forced myself to complete my morning exercises. Afterward, I did two loads of laundry while picking up the house and then read the coming weekend’s scripture passages. Though I’d decided not to mention COVID-19 and our other current sources of misery by name, I also realized that each of these afflictions weigh heavily upon us all these days.

After getting a positive start on that reflection, I noticed that the rain had let up. I wasn’t certain how long this would last. However, I was certain that the red line on my thermometer had not edged beyond forty-five that day. Still, I couldn’t resist the oddly peaceful setting which lay beneath the cloudy sky. Though the beautiful fall colors which adorned my neighborhood were muted on that seemingly dismal day, the scene before me nudged me back to Psalm 23.

Though I had plenty more to do inside, I headed outdoors to walk. Every step of the way, autumn’s beauty urged me on. It wasn’t until I returned home that I realized God had restored my soul. Even on that gray-hued day, God had refreshed me.

Loving God, thank you for the many beautiful ways in which you refresh us.

©2020 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Gifted By Every Season

The earth and its fullness;
the world and those who dwell in it are all of God.

Psalm 24:1

The four seasons captivate me with their shows of nature’s grandeur. Spring arrives with only the slightest hint of renewed life-in-the-making. Summer brings hope-fulfilled in lush green carpets of grass and blossoms of every color. Though autumn’s sometimes gloomy days replace summer’s vibrancy too quickly, autumn’s colors captivate as well. Yet, in spite of this beauty, I find myself most taken by the coldest season of the year.

This morning’s blustering winds hinted at winter’s impending arrival. That frigid season will soon draw me in with its onslaught of snow and cold. I find nothing more beautiful than an ice-clad tree or an undisturbed expanse of hardened snow. Add the crunch of that snow beneath my feet and I’m in outdoor heaven!

My revelry over our ever-changing seasons doesn’t dispel the twinge of frustration I experience as I peek out the window at the leaves I raked an hour ago. They’ve deserted their piles to flit and crackle in the wind. Are they laughing at my wasted effort? Mounds of snow will soon do the same. Still, I look forward to winter. Living things lying dormant beneath the snowy surface symbolize the potential to be found within each one of us. These wonderful discoveries rekindle my hope just as winter does. You see, though they may be hidden for a while, the gifts of this life are everywhere around us and within each one of us!

Creator God, help me always to appreciate the gifts which lie within each one of us whatever the season.

©2020 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Go In God’s Direction

Let all your works give you thanks, O Lord,
and let your faithful ones bless you.

Psalm 145:10

I haven’t been as regular with my outdoor walks as I’d like. I can offer no worthy excuse for this because these adventures always leave me feeling better. I’ll blame my uncontrolled angst with life these days. Need I state the obvious? COVID-19 continues to threaten. Social injustice continues and non-productive politics is rampant. Much to my good fortune, something, no, Someone, nudged me toward my jacket and then out the door this morning.

In spite of the chill, as soon as I established my pace, feelings of gratitude overwhelmed me. This is quite miraculous considering the persistent issues I’ve listed above. Though I’m a creature of habit who walks the same route every time I venture out, the blue sky and changes in the leaves of trees I’ve seen a hundred times filled me with awe. Squirrels scrambling to hide winter’s allotment of nuts forced me to laugh. Though I always enjoy these walks, the joy I experienced this morning was remarkable.

I suppose I’m an unwitting recipient of God’s generosity during these treks. The blue sky that so often beckons my eyes toward heaven and the trees who continuously raise their arms upward remind me to do the same. Their very existence points me in God’s direction. It occurs to me that my existence on this earth is meant to point others in God’s direction as well. No wonder I returned home with such gratitude. Being part of God’s creation is very good reason to give thanks -even in the midst of this world’s troubles.

Generous God, help me to live every day with a grateful heart and to transform my gratitude into acts which make this world a better place for us all.

©2020 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Natural Wonders

Let the sea and what fills it resound…
Let rivers clap their hands and
mountains shout for joy…

From Psalm 98 1:7-8

A cold front transformed the week’s moderate temps into a taste of fall. Though I enjoy the approach of each of the seasons, this sudden change took me by surprise. I’ve recently enjoyed a string of wonderful days outdoors. How can summer feel so close-by only to give way to fall within a matter of just a few hours? I know, this is a silly question from someone who has lived in Chicagoland all of her life!

Perhaps I fear that the change in temperature will somehow lessen the joy the outdoors have brought me as of late. My husband really outdid himself with the flowers this year! As I grab my jacket for a walk, I consider the numerous miracles of nature I’ll relish along the way…

I know it’s only mid-September. Still, I must acknowledge that summer is coming to an end and that fall approaches. All too quickly, autumn’s beauty will give way to winter. Most of the living things I encounter today will too soon lie dormant beneath the surface until next spring. The potential they hold reminds me of the potential to be found in us all. Our numerous amazing gifts sometimes lurk beneath the surface as well. It seems to me that nature’s transformations give me reason to celebrate not only their beauty, but also the evolving and sometimes hidden gifts of those I’ve been given to love.

Creator God, help me always to appreciate your gifts, those that come in the wonder of nature and those that come in the wonder of my fellow humans.

©2020 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved