Transformed By Love

All this is the work of the kindness of our God.
Luke 1:18

As I continue to prepare for Christmas, the wife, mom and grandma in me hope that everything will be perfect for the ones I love. Though I’ve done my best to prepare, one never knows what lies ahead. I consider the mother of Jesus and her plans. When Gabriel appeared to announce an alternative, the news must have startled Mary at best. “God’s Son? My Son? How can this possibly be?” Still, this brave teenager listened and opened herself to the challenges which lay ahead. Like every parent among us, Mary allowed her life to be changed forever by the child God had given her to love.

Within a week, we will celebrate Christmas. Life will likely be more hectic than any of us prefer. Still, we’ll adjust, refocus and embrace this precious time. The child who changed everything two millenniums ago remains among us to do the same today. Like our loved ones, this child seeks our attention, our focus and our love. Though our own children grow and leave home to make their own way as we did, Jesus never leaves. He grew and prospered, died and rose only to remain around us and within us every moment of our lives. So it is that Jesus asks that we do whatever we do with him in mind. Like our own children, that cute little babe in the manger makes unimaginably unexpected demands upon us. Like our own children, he rewards us with greater love than seems possible.

Dear God, thank you for transforming this world with your love.

©2018 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Sweet Memories

A family record of Jesus Christ…
Matthew 1:1

Before preparing this year’s Christmas Cards, I updated my Christmas Card addresses. As time passes, I find that this task takes longer and longer because my stockpile of memories continues to grow. Usually, I smile my way through this work in response to the images of loved ones that dance in my head. The other day, I did the same when I lingered at our wall of family photos. This year, my encounter with my address file was bittersweet. A renewed sense of loss emerged each time I came to the name of someone who has passed away since last Christmas. I told myself that I know these loved ones are rejoicing more than ever this year. With that, I giggled at a mental picture of that amazing party!

When I finally returned to the task at hand, I discovered that bits of hope, peace and joy were making their way to the surface. When I finally printed those address labels, I offered a share of that hope and peace and joy to these loved ones. I also thanked them for bringing me the same over the years.

Caring God, Jesus taught from the heart and soul of a family member and friend who fully understands our joys and our sorrows. Thank you for sending Jesus as one of us!

©2018 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Plug Away and Hope

Blessed are they who hunger and thirst for justice,
for they shall have their fill.

Matthew 5:6

Though I’ve been working hard to inspire hope and to share a bit of peace along the way, I continue to be distracted from my efforts by this world’s troubles. Unrest here and overseas, ongoing injustice and the inability of our legislators to agree on much of anything give me little reason to rejoice. Once again, I admit that I’ve been cranky as well. Still, I persist with my Christmas preparations.

My husband the deacon works on his homily and I prepare an article for the early Christmas bulletin deadline. I breathe deeply every time I stop to water our Christmas Tree. I find the scent of pine to be truly life-giving! I have most of the gifts and stocking stuffers we need. I’m also glad that we’ve budgeted something for those who need a little boost just now. Happily, our parish gift-giving campaign characteristically reached beyond all of our expectations. In the midst of this all, my husband and I have spent a good deal of quality time with our grandchildren.

In spite of the troubles that beset me and my world, I find reason to hope and to carry on. When I do so wholeheartedly, I can’t help spreading a bit of peace as well.

Dear God, thank you for giving us the sense to embrace hope and the generosity to share your peace.

©2018 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

God Is With Us!

I went out a few days before Thanksgiving to purchase replacements for a string of Christmas lights which refused to make it another year. Though I didn’t find the LEDs I needed, I did find myself drawn in by the store’s Christmas displays. They were so inviting that I took the time to walk a few aisles simply to enjoy the show. Afterward, I decided to make another stop for those lights. Maybe the next store would have them and an equally entertaining Christmas array. In the end, I didn’t find the lights I wanted, but my heart was lightened just the same. I headed home with the hope that I’d come across them somewhere along the way. I also headed home with a smile.

It was the week after Thanksgiving when Mike and I set out to find a new outdoor timer. The one we’d used for years had lost its enthusiasm and refused to keep our lighting schedule. The poor thing had served us well, so we didn’t complain. Rather, we headed back to the store I’d visited for those elusive light strings. When we approached the Christmas aisle, I couldn’t believe my eyes. The displays I’d enjoyed just days earlier resembled a war zone. Apparently, Black Friday shoppers had purchased so much that the store either couldn’t keep up or had little merchandise left to restock. Fortunately for us, timers seemed not to have been in demand and Mike and I found exactly what we needed. As we strolled to the checkout, I couldn’t help noticing that most of our fellow shoppers had lost their leisurely demeanor. One week earlier, when I smiled at someone, he or she quickly returned the favor. This was no longer the case. Alarm clocks the morning after Thanksgiving had signaled the beginning of shoppers’ nightmares and their frazzled race to December 25. I wished I could convince each one of them to take a deep breath and to enjoy the moments at hand. After all, we’re in the midst of Advent. You know, the “coming” or “arrival” which is occurring now. We have nothing to wait for because God is already with us. This is the reason Jesus didn’t wait. Jesus brought hope to every moment at hand…

Do you remember the wedding feast at Cana? Imagine Jesus ignoring his mother’s request to help that young couple with their wine predicament! Jesus might have replied, “I know running out of wine is an embarrassment, but the bride and groom will get over it! It’s not my time to get involved!” Still, Jesus responded to Mary’s hope and he saved the day by providing that wine. Do you remember the ten lepers? Jesus might have ignored their cries. After all, suffering builds character. The lepers’ lot would earn them a fine reward in the next life. Still, Jesus saw the hope in their eyes and cured them all. Jesus might also have ignored the woman at the well. Jesus knew she’d made a mess of her prior relationships. Perhaps she’d come to her senses on her own and eventually learn the true meaning of love. Still, when Jesus saw the woman’s hopeful response to his presence, he shared the wisdom she needed. Even that weary crowd of five thousand wasn’t enough to deter Jesus. He bolstered the hope they’d found in his teaching with a much-needed meal. Throughout his entire life among us, Jesus took every opportunity to infuse hope into the moments at hand by revealing God’s loving presence to all who looked his way.

The scripture readings today (Baruch 5:1-9; Philippians 1:4-6, 8-11; Luke 3:1-18) and throughout Advent speak to a better future. Old Testament passages infused hope into the dejected people with images of life under more suitable leadership and beyond the torment of slavery. The early church saw these passages as foreshadowing Jesus’ coming. Jesus’ earliest followers believed that hope came to life on the first Christmas when Jesus was born. The early church understood that they had reason to celebrate because the kingdom had come and God lived among them. It seems to me that we need to embrace the stance of the early church this Advent and always. While the children among us wait to celebrate the birth of Baby Jesus, we celebrate God’s presence in the here and now. Though we look with hope toward the things to come, we embrace every second of every day with hope as well. After all, none of us can limit the potential God has infused into the moments at hand.

If we could see into the hearts of those gathered with us today, we’d find amazing joy and unimaginable suffering. Some will endure Christmas Day without a wife or husband, a mother or father, a son or daughter or dear friend who left this world too soon. Some will endure Christmas in the midst of a crumbling marriage or a crumbling career. Some who are lonely will try to ignore Christmas in order to avoid the pain. Those of us with hope-filled hearts must share our hope with those who need it most. Those of us who are steeped in sorrow must find the courage to give in to our hope and to embrace God’s love. God stands beside us ready to rejoice with us and to bear our pain with us. Yes, God is with us today. God isn’t waiting to come and we mustn’t wait to welcome God into our lives.
©2018 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Healing Love

“I will leave as a remnant in your midst
a people humble and lowly,
Who shall take refuge in my name.”

Zephaniah 3:13

The other day, I was impatient and on edge. Nothing in particular had gone wrong at the time. Still, I felt as though the entire world was in trouble and that it was up to me to fix it all. Sadly, I felt as though I was in trouble as well. It’s odd that these feelings overwhelmed me on a Sunday morning at church. Just a week earlier, at the same time and in the same place, I’d found a smile for everyone I encountered and I’d felt very much at peace.

On that seemingly peace-less day, I tried to cheer myself by voicing my gratitude for the many encouraging and inspiring people around me. They always manage to raise me up when I seem destined to sink into the depths of despair. Fortunately for me, two of them appeared when I needed them most. The first thanked me for writing for our parish bulletin each week. He told me that my words never fail to touch his heart. The second told me that she didn’t know what our parish would do without my husband and me. I admit that she brought a tear to my eye as I wasn’t feeling particularly helpful at the time.

During the drive home, I acknowledged that my misery was minimal in the grand scheme of things. I also acknowledged that this world has been in misery throughout human history. No one will ever fix it all! All any of us can do is to place our trust in God’s love and do our best to share that love wherever we are.

Loving God,be with us as we transform our little corners of this world with love.

©2018 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Spread Peace On Earth

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

Psalm 145:10

As I passed the calendar in our kitchen this morning, I was tempted to count the days until Christmas. Since my math skills allowed me to rely on subtraction rather than counting day by day, I used the time saved to enjoy the snow falling outside my window. Afterward, I took a few minutes to sit near our Christmas Tree.

Ornaments which mark our grandchildren’s births caught my eye. This year, we added another to mark our new grandson’s arrival. Our granddaughters usually celebrate the wait for Christmas by attending to their Advent Calendar. Each day, one of them places a little stuffed figure onto the calendar’s Nativity setting. On December 25, Baby Jesus will complete the scene. While I’ll older grandson will do the same, his younger brother will observe the season by eating and sleeping, growing, cooing and smiling. He will continue to stare at his family Christmas Tree with great interest and little understanding of its significance.

As for you and me… The troubles of this world quickly distract us from the joyful hope of Advent. Whether these things affect our own families and communities or others far from us, they detract greatly from the sense of peace which should characterize our wait for Christmas. Though we cannot change these things alone, we can all do something to improve the state of those around us. It seems to me that the best way to make the most of Advent is to bring some semblance of peace to every day that leads us to December 25.

Loving God, though we cannot make everything right, please help each of us to do something to bring peace to our own little corners of this world.

©2018 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved