Make A Change

I am “a voice in the desert, crying out:
Make straight the way…”

John 1:23

I begin every New Year with great expectations for myself, for my loved ones and for this world of ours. I reflect upon my ever-growing list of imperfections and then select a few things which I can actually change. After devising my self-improvement plan, I consider those I’ve been given to love. My assessment of their needs is far less critical and far more nurturing than my own. I simply consider each one and wish him or her a New Year filled with the grace, wisdom and strength to do their best as best they can.

This world of ours is another story. I’m torn between heartbreak for our brothers and sisters whose suffering seems endless and anger toward those in power who can’t seem to get it right when it comes to creating peace on this earth. The divide between bondage and liberty, poverty and wealth, sorrow and joy seems to grow exponentially with every passing day. This year, the divide between health and illness has grown as well. Though opportunities to help have slipped through our collective fingers since the onset of this pandemic, we’ll begin a new year tomorrow. New Year 2021 offers new opportunities to make it a better year for us all.

Though my sphere of influence is minimal in the grand scheme of things, it is still mine. Every moment I’m given is mine. When I respond to the situations at hand lovingly and productively, I change the world in a positive way. When I respond with anger, hatred or even thoughtless impatience, I do the opposite.

It seems to me that the best New Year’s resolution I can make is to do everything I can to bring some measure of peace and love with me wherever I am. Sometimes, these efforts will be life-changing. Sometimes, they will be only moment-changing. Always, they will change this world for the better.

Loving God, be with us all as we bring your peace and love to this world, one moment at a time.

©2020 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

God’s With Us

God looked at everything God had made
and found it very good.

From Genesis 1:31

When my granddaughter remarked that there were only a few days of school left before Christmas vacation, I was taken aback a bit. I determined that her teachers had done a good job conducting her remote learning because Lauren longed for winter break to begin.

As a teacher, I learned to make the most of winter break. When I taught second and third graders, their unrest before Christmas vacation betrayed their anticipation regarding what Santa might place under their trees on Christmas. I engaged in some extremely creative teaching to keep my students’ attention until I finally dismissed them for their two-week hiatus. My husband was a school principal and his office needed a revolving door during those final days as a few students needed more than their teachers’ creativity to contain them. When we had children of our own, we did our best to send them to school with plenty of “encouragement” to behave until the final bell rang and vacation began.

This time away from school was truly a gift to all concerned. Though having the kids at home while trying to prepare for Christmas was a challenge, their involvement added to all of our appreciation of the season. When Christmas Day arrived, we had much to celebrate together.

Tomorrow is New Year’s Eve and another variety of anticipation and a bit of uncertainty set in. Like the children who wondered what gifts Santa would bring, I wonder what New Year 2021 has in store. Will COVID vaccines reach enough people soon enough? How long will this pandemic linger? Will facing this together teach us all something about loving one another a little better? The truth is that God only knows. The rest of the truth is that God will be with us through it all.

Dear God, thank you for your loving care today, throughout the coming year and always.

©2020 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Always Safe and Always Loved

You shall not fear the terror of the night
nor the arrow that flies by day.

Psalm 91:5

For decades, my family gathered to continue our holiday festivities with a New Year’s Day celebration. For generations before I arrived, my dad’s Canadian family preserved this tradition which includes a family blessing. Every New Year’s Day, we gathered before our eldest family member to request his or her intercession. For the past several years, it has been my sister Rita who has asked God’s gifts of happiness, health and prosperity for each one of us during the coming year.

For as long as I can remember, I experienced a reassuring sense of peace as we knelt together for this annual prayer. Afterward, I felt oddly protected regardless of what life had in store for the next three hundred and sixty-four days. This year, because we won’t be gathering, I’ll take a mental trip back to those New Year’s Days Past. I hope to recapture that sense of family and that sense of peace I’ve felt among generations of loved ones over the years.

During my New Year’s Day musing, I’ll enjoy the memories and then move on to prayer… I’ll give thanks for the decades-long opportunity we had to help our own sons feel safe and loved. I’ll give thanks for the texts and FaceTime calls that remind all concerned that we are loved. In the process, I’ll remind myself and those dearest to me that God remains nearby, around us and within us, keeping us safe and loving us all the while.

Caring God, as we approach New Year 2021, please be as tangible as possible with your assurances that you truly are always nearby, around us and within us, that you keep us safe and that you love us always, no matter what!

©2020 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Carry On!

Though my daily posts are usually much shorter, I’m taking advantage of this special day to say a little more…

“And Mary kept all these things,
reflecting on them in her heart.”

From Luke 2:16-21

Whenever the scriptures referenced the mother of Jesus, I used to picture my favorite statue, painting or Christmas card. These renderings portrayed a serene and beautiful young woman. She either held the child Jesus or prayed with folded hands. Mary’s clothing was impeccable and often trimmed in gold. A halo surrounded her head to assure me of Mary’s holiness. Early in my life, these representations accounted for my understanding of Mary. The wistful child in me whole-heartedly embraced what I thought I knew. When I became an adult and then a spouse and a parent, this perception changed. I had to acknowledge that Mary’s life wasn’t always marked with the serenity which that artwork suggested.

Though Mary likely experienced a childhood typical of her day, it didn’t last long. Historians tells us that young women of Mary’s day were often betrothed and given into marriage in their early teens. The scriptures tell us that Mary was betrothed to Joseph. Tradition tells us that Joseph was likely several years older than she. Conventional as this arrangement was, it went awry the day an angel visited Mary. This messenger invited Mary to accept a pregnancy which wouldn’t begin in the usual way. Though Mary didn’t plan to be with child this early in her young life and certainly not before she married, something impelled her to accept God’s invitation. Unfortunately, when the angel disappeared, Mary was left to inform her poor parents and poor Joseph of the situation. Imagine how that must have gone!

Did Mary’s parents think their daughter was foolhardy or sinful? Or had they seen something in this child which indicated that she would accomplish the amazing one day? Though, for Mary’s sake I hope it was the latter, her parents likely worried and fretted just the same. Their daughter could have been stoned to death for being unfaithful to her betrothed. And what about Joseph? Did he think Mary was less than the woman he’d fallen in love with? Did he wonder how she could betray their love that way? Fortunately for all concerned, another angelic visitor clarified the situation and Joseph married Mary as planned. Still, in spite of this chapter’s happy ending, Mary experienced many more difficulties throughout her life. Yet, in spite of all of these troubles, Mary carried on. How? Only God and Mary know.

It seems to me that New Year’s Day is the perfect day to celebrate Mary. As I do this, I’m going to set aside the saintly images which inspired my childhood. Rather, I’ll look to the Mary who endured and overcame very human troubles which exceeded everything most of us will experience. I’ll look to the woman who changed swaddling clothes, searched for a lost child, mourned her husband and sent off her son to preach a new message to an unforgiving world. I’ll look to the woman who followed the accounts of Jesus’ work, who begged God to protect him and who wept before the cross on which he died. How did Mary find the strength to stay as they tortured Jesus? How could she have left him? In all of this, Mary carried on. How? Maybe God and Mary aren’t the only ones who know after all.

Many of us have survived devastating illnesses, heart-breaking losses and fractured relationships which simply wouldn’t heal. Many of us have survived persistent frustrations at work, in school, in the neighborhood and even at home where we should find refuge from these things. Many of us have survived events in our families and in the world at large which seemed far too much to bear. This was the case in Mary’s world and this continues to be the case in our world as well. The key concept here is that, as of today, we have survived our troubles just as Mary did. It seems to me that Mary was indeed very special to God and so are we.

This New Year’s Day, I thank God for last year’s gifts. I acknowledge the troubles of 2019 and thank God that I’ve survived them. I also thank God for being with me in everything. Finally, I thank God for the gift of New Year 2020 and ask that the gifts of 2020 outweigh its troubles. However it goes, I will carry on as Mary did. We’ll all carry on because, like Mary, that is what we do.

Happy New Year!

©2019 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Enjoy The Break!

From heaven the Lord looks
and sees us all.

Psalm 33:13

Today, the experienced teacher in me is making an appearance. She’s reminding me in no uncertain terms just how happily I anticipated holiday breaks. Though I loved my job and the students who endured every day with me, I looked forward to a day off just as eagerly as they did. Whether it was a one-day hiatus such as Veteran’s Day or a days-long winter or spring break, I enjoyed these departures from the norm. When I worked full-time, my husband, our sons and I filled these recesses from school with everything that our school schedules prevented. We played in the snow and then went to the movies to retreat from the cold. Enjoying new toys and other Christmas gifts added to the fun. We went to bed a little later and slept in a little longer with great relish.

Today, I admit to partaking of these pleasures with special joy in spite of the fact that I have the option of doing so almost every day. Sleeping in and setting aside my to-do list bring the greatest pleasure during the days between Christmas and New Year’s Day. A welcome side-effect is the leisurely tone with which I pray during this time. There’s no rush involved in these conversations with God. Yes, leisure time is a beautiful thing!

This New Year’s Eve, our sons and their wives and children are making the most of this break from their jobs and school. I’m pleased that this particular family tradition isn’t lost on the younger generation. My offspring appreciate this special time to relax and enjoy one another and they’re teaching their children the same.

Loving God, be with us as we make the time today and throughout the coming year to enjoy ourselves, one another and you.

©2019 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

I’m Resolved… I Really Am!

I am a voice in the desert, crying out:
Make straight the way of the Lord!

John 1:23

Though I’ve made New Year’s resolutions in the past, I most often avoid this opportunity. It has seemed a little foolhardy to allow the calendar to dictate meaningful change in my life. Still, I’ve decided to do so this year.

Before actually committing myself, I’ve taken time to reflect. This exercise in introspection included a leisurely afternoon during which I reread all of the Christmas cards and letters we received this year. Each one brought a measure of glad tidings and re-acquainted me with friends near and far. Halfway through, I came across an unusually beautiful card. It features the unexpected image of John the Baptist. Subtle silhouettes of both a crèche and cross are etched into the background. The verse from John’s gospel cited above is printed on the inside cover. I couldn’t help thinking that this particular card truly proclaimed the message of Christmas.

After reading the remainder of our Christmas mail, I considered my resolution. It occurred to me that I should attend to both body and spirit in my efforts. So it is that I’m taking John the Baptist’s lead on both counts. I’ll keep my body healthy by resuming my once chiseled-in-stone walking schedule. I’ll keep my spirit healthy by sticking to my message as John did. I’ll tend to my words and my actions by writing the truth as I know it and by living accordingly as best I can. In both cases, I must proceed with love. I think John tried to do that, too.

Loving God, today and always, help me to use my body and my spirit to care for those you have given me to love.

©2019 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved