With Us Always

I’ve tried to use my stay-in-place time productively. At the same time, I’ve come to appreciate the opportunity to begin each of these seventy-plus days in a leisurely fashion. Before the pandemic, I woke each morning, turned my eyes upward and offered a quick “Thank you for the sleep!” to our benevolent Creator. Each time, I promised to have a lengthier conversation when time permitted later in the day. Then, I’d turn toward my husband to offer or receive a good morning kiss. Afterward, I did the mandated exercises which maintain my back’s flexibility. Finally, I’d quickly read through the day’s pages from two favorite devotionals. By that time, Mike had finished his morning allotment of coffee. We’d have breakfast together and then get on to the given day’s agenda.

Since the pandemic’s onset, leisurely mornings have allowed me to insert more than a single-sentence prayer into my morning routine. While that morning kiss and my exercise continue, I take more time reading my devotionals. On occasion, I read a selection twice or more because the writer’s insight merits a second or third look. Best of all, that one-line prayer has evolved into a conversation which I hope will be a part of every new day I’m given. I exercise on the floor in our room near a large window. These days, I take the time to stand at that window to absorb the beauty beyond the glass. Even on rainy days, I can’t help appreciating God’s goodness in it all. As upset as I’ve been by the loss and suffering caused by our world’s bout with COVID-19, I cannot miss God’s presence in it all. The view beyond my window renews that awareness every day.

I share all of this as we celebrate the Ascension of Jesus because our situation these days is quite similar to that of Jesus’ friends two millenniums ago. Though Jesus and his companions shared many good and happy times together, they also suffered uncertainty and much worse. Some of the temple hierarchy were puzzled by Jesus’ teachings while others resented everything Jesus stood for. A few Romans listened with some interest to what Jesus had to say. Remember the centurion who sought a cure for his dying child? However, most had no use for anyone who might cause unrest among the people. Jesus received a good deal of attention from those who had no one else to turn to. At the same time, he upset the keepers of The Law whenever he associated with anyone they considered to be unworthy or unclean. The closer Jesus and his followers came to their last trip to Jerusalem, the closer they were to Jesus’ demise. The disciples were uncertain of what was to come and they wrung their hands with worry. We’ve spent more than seventy days battling this pandemic and we continue to worry as well.

It occurs to me that this is the reason Jesus closed his time with his disciples with reassurance regarding his absolute faith in and love for each one of them. Jesus reminded his friends of the most important aspects of his teaching. If they took his words to heart, every day they lived would be a God-filled day for them. Though we hear a different Ascension gospel each year, the essence of Jesus’ message remains the same. Luke (Luke 24:46-53) shares that Jesus said, “And behold I am sending the promise of my Father upon you.” Jesus assured his friends that God would be with them in everything. Mark (Mark 16:15-20) tells us that Jesus asked his disciples to “Go into the world and proclaim the gospel to every creature.” They were to go out to assure all who listened of God’s love for them. In today’s account from Matthew (Matthew 28:16-20), Jesus added his promise, “I will be with you always, until the end of the world.” None of us would be left to carry on alone. John’s gospel ends without reference to the Ascension. When John’s gospel is read on Ascension Day, Jesus’ prayer at the Last Supper is cited: “Holy Father, I pray not only for them, but also for those who will believe in me through their word.” Jesus’ prayer included his companions who walked with him and all of us who would eventually be touched by their efforts.

When news of the gradual reopening of our state and of our local churches surfaced, my emotions fluctuated between relief and worry. I was thrilled with the possibility of returning to a bit of normalcy and I worried about the consequences if we fail to ease into these efforts safely. Like Jesus’ disciples, I am more than ambivalent regarding the things to come. And, like Jesus’ disciples, I am reassured. God patiently and lovingly remains with me throughout these trying days. It is God who draws me to that window every morning and to the loving exchanges which follow. Whether I speak of goodness or the evil which threatens, my accomplishments or failures, my relief or worry, God listens attentively to every word. You see, on that Ascension Day when Jesus assured his disciples that he would be with them always, he assured us of the same. God is indeed with us and there God will remain!
©2020 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

God’s Good Company

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

Psalm 34:5

Loss is tough. Loss occurs in relationships cut short by a misunderstanding or a move. Loss comes in the passing of our loved ones. Loss comes with divorce, even when this choice is mutual. The loss of a familiar workplace or neighborhood brings heartache. When we find ourselves at odds with an institution which once felt as comfortable as home, we find ourselves at a loss as well. Feelings of abandonment and loneliness, hopelessness and solitude consume us in the midst of these events. It seems no one and nothing can fill the emptiness within us.

The good news for all of us is that we don’t face our losses alone. Rather, we find ourselves embraced in sacred moments of sharing. Sometimes, they come in human form through the voice of a knowing friend; in the song of a mother who will love her child forever; in an artist’s rendition of a father hugging his prodigal son; in the kindness of a colleague who takes over simply because she is needed; in the parents and grandparents, spouses and significant others, sisters, brothers and friends who teach us to hold onto one another in the best and worst of times. Sometimes, these sacred moments come in the reassurance we find in the depths of our own hearts. Always, God is with us in every loss. Always, God responds with healing love.

Loving God, thank you for being with us through our losses and everything else!

©2019 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

We’re All In The Same Boat!

Two Sundays ago, I rose early and headed off to church. I hoped to offer a “welcome home” to friends from St. Paul’s who’d returned from Israel a few days earlier. Though I was unable to physically join them on this trip, I traveled with them in spirit. The tour director and fellow tourists had shared this adventure via photo and video posts on Facebook. They’d allowed me to be with them, at least virtually, every step of the way. Though these images indicated that all concerned had enjoyed an amazing trip, I wanted to confirm this for myself. As it happened, the smiles and comments of the six friends I met that morning indicated that they’d experienced the same once-in-a-lifetime adventure I’d enjoyed in Israel. When I returned home, I pulled out the albums which chronicle our trips there. Within minutes, that unexpected sense of peace which greeted me in the Holy Land returned…

For reasons unknown to me, the time I spent in Israel felt very much like a family reunion. Several years earlier, Mike and I had traveled to Croatia to meet his cousins there. Two years ago, we flew to Quebec to meet my dad’s family. Last summer, we traveled to Sicily to visit Mike’s grandparents’ hometown. Each of these encounters left us with a heartwarming sense of belonging. I’d experienced precisely the same in Israel. When I pondered this phenomenon, it occurred to me that going to the Holy Land was a family reunion as well. My own story began there long ago when the one whom they called “Teacher” laid the foundation for everything of importance to me. Jesus revealed the essence of God’s love and our capacity to love one another. I wouldn’t be the person, child, sibling, wife, mom, aunt, grandma and friend I am today if I hadn’t taken these lessons to heart. Though our family trees may not indicate that we share our genealogy, Jesus and I are family just the same. Every encounter with Jesus’ history in the Holy Land proved to be an encounter with my own history as well. When I revisited our photos of The Jesus Boat, I understood why I take today’s passage from Luke’s gospel (Luke 5:1-11) to heart.

We read a great deal about fishermen and boats in the gospels. Though some of his followers abandoned their fishing businesses to follow Jesus, he went back to their boats often to get from place to place, to preach and to rest. Though no one can say with any certainty that Jesus set foot on The Jesus Boat, this vessel is definitely a relic from Jesus’ day. Because it was discovered just north of Magdala and just south of Tabgha, Jesus may have looked upon this boat as he lingered on the shores of the Sea of Galilee. The boat is displayed in a museum in Kibbutz Ginosar. There I learned of Moshe and Yuval Lufan, brothers and fellow fishermen like Peter and Andrew. They discovered the ancient boat buried in mud near the shore of the Sea of Galilee. I was struck by the excitement of these two who couldn’t hide their amazement over this discovery. Their treasure shook both the archaeological world and the spiritual world to their cores. No one had ever before unearthed such an old vessel in such complete condition. This bit of Jesus’ history is particularly special to me because it gives life to Luke’s telling of Jesus’ adventure with Peter and Andrew, James and John.

As Luke tells it, Jesus had been preaching among a crowd near the Lake of Gennesaret (also called The Sea of Galilee) when he saw Simon washing his nets. Jesus boarded Simon’s boat and asked the fisherman to pull his boat into the water just a short distance from the shore. Simon must have been taken with Jesus because he obliged immediately. After preaching from Simon’s boat for some time, Jesus asked his unsuspecting friend to sail into the deep water and to cast his nets once again. Practical man that he was, Simon pointed out that he’d worked all night in the same area and had caught nothing. Still, Simon did as Jesus asked. Almost immediately, the poor man’s nets became so full that they threatened to tear. Simon’s fellow fishermen came to the rescue as his boat might have sunk under the weight of those fish. Having seen The Jesus Boat first hand, I understand Simon’s fear! Still, small as that boat was, Luke tells us that Simon seemed to fear something else far more than his sinking boat. Witnessing this miracle filled him with absolute awe and trepidation. Simon seemed to wonder, “Who am I to be in the company of this Jesus who can work such wonders?” Indeed, Simon followed this thought with a command to Jesus: “Depart from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man!”

Jesus’ response to the fearful Simon is the reason I take Luke’s account to heart. Though Simon doubted what part he could possibly play in Jesus’ plan, Jesus remained steadfast in his confidence in Simon. Though one day Jesus would rename his humble friend Peter, it was the essence of the old Simon which compelled Jesus to ask him to follow him and to work at his side. Whenever I doubt myself, I must open my ears as Simon did to God’s call. Incapable and unworthy as I may seem to me, I must never doubt my place in God’s world and God’s plan. Nor should you!
©2019 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Plodding Along In Good Company

People will make their way
from every direction to God’s table.

Luke 13:29

I’m pleased that our sons draw from the best of our gene pool. My husband is of average height and I’m short. Our sons are six feet tall. They also have healthier lifestyles than my husband and I had at their ages. Though our older son gave up running after reaching his marathon goals, he continues an exercise regimen. Our younger son is a serious walker. Our daughters-in-law exercise at least as much as their husbands while urging our grandchildren into active lifestyles. When it comes to healthy eating, they’re all experts.

These observations inspired me to make a rare birthday gift request: some uncomplicated gadget to count my steps. The kids obliged and I’ve been walking more regularly ever since. I push myself to walk a bit more briskly and a bit farther. Once I establish my pace, I attend to the beauty around me. Regardless of the day, the sky keeps watch overhead while the trees stand firm along my path. The spraying fountain which I pass near our village hall sparkles as I pass. While I enjoy the sites, that little gadget tracks my progress.

I admit that I rather enjoy my now effortless attempts to walk every day. While I do my best to attend to my to-do list, that little gadget nudges me when I’ve been still a bit too long. When I finally recognized this transformation, I realized that God has been doing the same for me all of my life. While I do my best as I we plod along, God’s nudges me through a caring loved one, a bit of written inspiration, a beautiful day or a whispered reminder that I’m never ever alone. Trust me. God is doing the same for you.

Gracious God, thank you for helping us all along the way.

©2018 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

God Days

I’ve always preferred handwritten letters to email. Still, I communicate via email every day. I thought I’d adapted to this expedited mode of communication until this morning. After rereading the Mother’s Day cards I received from my family, I stowed them in my memento drawer. It’s always a mistake to open this drawer because I can’t walk away without revisiting the correspondence there. This time, a letter from our son Mike caught my eye.

Our son’s letter opened with “Mom + Dad” and closed with that all-important “Love, Mike.” It was quite impressive that Mike had written at all as it was the end of the last semester of college and he was in the midst of finals. Nonetheless, he took the time to warn us about an unexpected charge on his credit card. He needed clothing for a job interview and he determined that this was one of those “emergencies” for which we’d provided that card. After apologizing for the expenditure, he added that his grades would soothe any discomfort we were feeling as he expected them to be very good. I suppose he added that “Love, Mike” for good measure. I laughed as I read from the yellowed notebook paper in my hand. I wondered what Mike would have written if he’d been able to text that day. Would he have included the reassurance regarding his grades? Would he have added, “Love, Mike”? My musing brought to mind my own experiences with texting and email.

My extensive use of written language requires me to rely on automatic spell-check and my own proofreading to ensure that my messages say what I intend. Because I think far more quickly than I type, my typos are numerous. Oddly, my most frequent error occurs when I close my emails with “Have a good day!” While proofreading, I invariably find that I’ve actually typed, “Have a god day!” This compels me to wonder if I should use the email and texting shortcuts or imojis which save everyone else so much time and space. Or, should I end my emails without that final call to a “good” day? As I ponder further, it occurs to me that “g-o-d” is far more than the misspelling of “good.” It’s actually the most important word that I know. Finally, I consider the possibility that my frequent error may be an inspired effort to offer my email recipients much more than a good day. Perhaps this error isn’t a spelling error at all, but rather an error in capitalization. Perhaps I should have been typing “Have a God day!” all along. I share all of this because “God days” seem to be at the core of last Jesus’ message to his disciples before ascending to heaven. Just as my son made his point by closing his letter with “Love, Mike”, Jesus closed his time with his disciples with specific language regarding his absolute faith in and love for each one of them.

When Jesus bade them farewell, he reminded his friends of the most important aspects of his teaching. If they took his words to heart, every day they lived would be a “God day” for them. Though we hear different Ascension gospels each year, the core of Jesus’ message remains the same. In Luke’s account (Luke 24:46-53), Jesus said, “And behold I am sending the promise of my Father upon you.” Luke wrote to impress upon us Jesus’ promise that God will be with us in everything. Mark’s account (Mark 16:15-20) shares that Jesus asked his disciples to “Go into the world and proclaim the gospel to every creature.” By sharing the Word, they would assure all who listened of God’s love for them. In today’s account from Matthew (Matthew 28:16-20), Jesus added his promise, “I will be with you always, until the end of the world.” Jesus promised to remain at their sides through everything. John’s gospel ends without reference to the Ascension. Perhaps John felt that Jesus had said all that needed to be said long before he ascended. When John’s gospel is read on Ascension Day, this reference to the Last Supper is cited: “Lifting up his eyes to heaven, Jesus prayed, saying: ‘Holy Father, I pray not only for them, but also for those who will believe in me through their word…’” Jesus’ prayer included not only the disciples who walked with him, but also all of us who would eventually be touched by their efforts. Apparently, “God days” are intended for us all.

On this Ascension Day, as I consider Jesus’ last conversations with this friends, I can’t help thinking of my son’s letter. Though he shared a bit of bad news regarding that credit card bill, he surrounded it with the good news regarding his grades and job interview. More importantly, he ended with a reminder that his mom and dad are loved. Jesus ended every interaction with the assurance that those around him were loved. When Jesus left his disciples that day, he prayed that they and all of us would do the same. In light of God’s great love for us and our invitation to share that love, I can’t help using my new email closing: “Have a God day!”

©2017 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

E… Everlasting. Yes, Everlasting!

You who dwell in God’s shelter, who abide in God’s light,
say to the Lord, my refuge and my fortress, my God in whom I trust.
For he will rescue you…

From Psalm 91:1-3

E is for Everlasting. This adjective is discouraging at best when it references our troubles: a painful headache or a painful co-worker; a tedious job or a tedious nag; a chemotherapy regimen or a toxic relationship. Today, I use this adjective to describe the only aspect of our lives which actually is everlasting…

God is everlasting. Regardless of the names we humans give The Everlasting, it is only God who has no beginning and no end. God is, was and always will be. We are blessed with immortal souls and it is God who breathed life into each one of us at a particular point in time.

The best part of all of this is that God’s every characteristic is also everlasting: God’s love; God’s patience; God’s forgiveness; God’s mercy; God’s creativity; God’s knowledge of you and me; God’s amusement over our silliness; God’s compassion when we’re hurting; God’s ability to look beyond our failures to the goodness deep within us. God’s everything is everlasting.

It seems fitting on this 13th day of New Year 2017 to acknowledge the best thing we have going for us: God’s everlasting involvement. Whether we acknowledge this gift or not, there is no changing the fact that we are the objects of God’s everlasting attention and that we are never alone. What more do I need? What more does any of us need?

Everlasting God, you remain with us for the long haul, today and always. Thank you for including us in your everlasting life.

©2017 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved