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

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

Pray Well!

“This is how you are to pray.”
Matthew 6:9

I haven’t walked for the past few days because my husband and I have been tending to our yard. This was an attempt to prepare our home for what we hope will evolve into a typical summer. I cleaned the outdoor furniture and swept the screened porch while Mike planted flowers everywhere. In spite of the lovely results of our labor, we admitted that it is quite likley that we will be the only ones who’ll enjoy them firsthand. So it was that, today, I walked. In spite of the rain, I walked. Though this might seem to have been an effort to get some exercise, it was actually my effort to get God’s full attention. I left home with a laundry list of requests regarding the world-full of troubles that continue amidst the COVID-19 pandemic. This walk would provide the time necessary to dictate this list to my ever-patient God.

Yes, this reflection is being written by the very same person who has assured you that she is filled with God’s peace and that God knows all of our troubles better than we do. Fortunately, as soon as I made it to the end of my block, an insistent breeze returned me to my senses. It pushed me along just briskly enough to remind me of this truth. With that, I uttered that truth in a single sentence and then continued my walk in silence. “You know what’s wrong, Dear God, and I know you’ll be with us as we deal with it. Thank you.”

Loving God, teach me always to pray selflessly and with absolute faith in your love for me and for all of us.

©2020 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Peace Be With Us All

“The works that God gave me to accomplish,
these works that I perform testify that God has sent me.”

John 5:36

Wasn’t it just yesterday that I wrote about the peace with which I begin each day? Though I’m grateful that God’s peace stays with me much of the time, this is sometimes not the case. Today, I’m more than impatient with a few of my fellow humans. Though I believe God loves us just as we are, I’m having a little trouble following God’s good example. I just watched a news report which I wish I’d missed. Those featured seem to have forgotten that we’re all God’s people. I shouldn’t have allowed these few to distract me from the remarkable good that is being accomplished by so many these days. Yet, I did!

Determined to change my attitude, I ran upstairs to take another peek out of the window which inspires my morning talks with God. Before I said a word, childhood memories regarding some of Jesus’ contemporaries filled me up. Before I could ask the point of all of this, the eleven-year-old I used to be came to mind. She was extremely impatient with the Pharisees who had no use for Jesus. This younger me was convinced that Jesus’ words and works had come from a loving God and she wondered why it was so difficult for the Pharisees to see this.

As I consider my current frustration, I acknowledge that times haven’t changed much. I’d revived my eleven-year-old frustration. I’d also lost the peace that resides not only beyond that window, but also deep within me. With that, I’m renewing my resolve to find that peace once again. I’ll pray for those who’d frustrated me so. I’ll also do what I can to bring peace to my little corner of this world.

Good and Patient God, help me to do just that!

©2020 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Just Talk…

God looked down from the holy height,
from heaven God beheld the earth and God listened…

From Psalm 102:20-21

During these stay-in-place days, I’ve discovered that the conversation with which I begin every day is more helpful than ever. I’ve shared before that not being governed by an alarm clock has allowed me to enjoy somewhat leisurely mornings. When we wake, my husband or I offer the other a good morning kiss. Afterward, he goes off to enjoy his first cup of coffee and I remain. I open the blinds and take in the view. Regardless of the weather, birds flit about, trees continue to green and the sky reigns over it all. That sky reminds that God is nearby. Though I have a favorite prayer from Psalm 91 which I offer every morning, I begin this encounter by simply talking.

I haven’t yet watched the too often dismal news. I haven’t yet checked my most recent to-do list. I have only to turn to God. Even on rainy days, I acknowledge that the images beyond my window illustrate God’s finest work. It’s then that God urges me to look at the reflection in that window. “You are my finest work!” God seems to say. In an effort to acknowledge God’s kindness, I respond, “I know, we humans are all your finest work.”

With that, I talk on… I share my heartbreak over the hungry and over those who don’t know where to turn to save their small businesses. I ask God to take care of essential workers in hospitals and at the grocery store. I marvel over the creative minds who work tirelessly to develop a vaccine and who find ways to deliver crops that might have been wasted to needy populations. As terrible as all of this seems, God and I enjoy the good that some of God’s “finest work” has managed to accomplish.

Finally, I join my husband to make breakfast with a far more positive attitude than I might have had. Though I’m never certain of what the day will bring, taking the time to begin that day with God changes everything for me. It will do the same for you, too.

Dear God, thank you for being with us always.

©2020 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Bring Peace To The Moment

I hear what God proclaims;
God proclaims peace.

Psalm 85:9

Though our COVID-19 world frustrates me a bit, I’m learning to be more patient regarding all of this. From my stay-in-place location, I can’t control many aspects of this world’s events. I can, however, deal with circumstances close by. My typical initial response to the troubles at hand used to be to turn my eyes upward and to order our patient God into action. Fortunately, my more leisurely mornings have allowed me the luxury of beginning each day in calm dialogue with my Maker. The result is a calmer perspective regarding whatever comes my way.

During pre-pandemic days, my typical response to imminent danger was precise calm. Perhaps it was the parent and teacher in me who did what needed to be done at the moment and then collapsed afterward. I recall shuddering on many occasions when I eventually realized just how devastating a given situation might have been. It was then that I was also grateful that I had infused a bit of peace into the situation.

The truth is that I’m no more brave or wise or calm than anyone else. I think it’s my certainty that stepping up is the right thing to do and my certainty regarding God’s promise to remain with me that give me courage. Though my interventions sometimes seem foolhardy, they also bring a measure of peace to those involved. Being a herald of peace seems a worthy calling during these difficult days. So it is that I will try…

Loving God, none of us can change this world on our own. Still, each of us can do something to improve the turf on which we walk. Give us the wisdom to know what to do and the courage to do it.

©2020 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved