God Fuels Our Hope

I surprised myself the other day when I woke an hour later than usual. Before I could tell myself that I must have needed the extra sleep, a slit of light at the window caught my eye. “Thank you for the sunshine,” I whispered. Though the snow that coated everything on Halloween had long since disappeared, clouds and cold temperatures lingered for days afterward. What a thrill is was to open the shades to embrace this new day! Since my dear husband had already headed to the kitchen for coffee, I stayed at the window to admire the crisp and sunny November morning. “Ah,” I told myself, “Maybe Mike and the boys won’t freeze today!” On this beautiful Saturday, our sons planned to whisk their dad away to celebrate his birthday. They’d visit a favorite brewery and then move on to dinner. This remained top secret until Mike arrived at the designated establishment with our out-of-town friend Matt. Only when the two were greeted with a “Happy Birthday!” by our sons did Mike realize he was being surprised. As for me, I was thrilled to be a part of this undercover operation. All the while, I recounted the decades of days I’ve had with this husband of mine. Where has the time has gone, Lord?

Change has been a constant throughout our life together. Mike lived in North Chicago and I lived in real Chicago when we met. A year later, we married and I left the city to move north. The good news was that I secured a job I loved in the North Chicago Schools where Mike also worked. The bad news was that I left my family and friends to do this. A few years into our union, we found a house that was just right. However, that find also required my commitment to become a working mom when a child came along. A few years later, we were thrilled by our older son’s arrival. Four months later, I tearfully dropped off Mikie at our babysitter’s home and then drove on to work. Our second son didn’t come along for quite some time. Fertility issues had delayed his eventual miraculous arrival. This time, I returned to work when Timmy was two and Mikie was ten. Throughout the years that followed, Mikie morphed into Mike and Timmy grew into Tim. Throughout those years, the good deacon was ordained, the 9/11 tragedy occurred and we both lost our moms. Our kids fought off the usual illnesses, my sister was diagnosed with lung cancer and we lost her. Several other precious loved ones succumbed to a variety of illnesses and old age. Our sons graduated college and moved on to good jobs. They married wonderful young women who joined them in giving us five much-loved grandchildren. All the while, the world’s troubles remained and, in some cases, worsened. Our own troubles came and went as well. We didn’t escape our own illnesses, job-related woes and concerns regarding church. Still, I give thanks that life has been oddly joyful and sweet. At the same time, I feel a little out of place in the peacefulness of it all. Are you trying to tell me something, Lord?

When I finally joined Mike in the kitchen that morning, I drifted toward the window to admire the bright blue sky. It would soon hide behind gray clouds. Sadly, I had to acknowledge that the same beautiful sky too often reigns over ominously sad and troubled days for us all. So many weren’t particularly peaceful at that moment. I imagined the sounds of gunfire and explosions across the ocean. I cringed as merciless winds and crackling embers continued their assault on the west coast. A friend who battles leukemia girded himself to fight all that this enemy has in store. Another friend hoped for love with absolute uncertainty regarding how to proceed. The world’s poor hoped for very little as their struggles persisted. A childless couple hoped their child would soon come. I took one last peek at the slowly disappearing blue above. Are you telling me something here, Lord?

I told myself that generations have come and gone under this sky and that more will do the same in the years, decades and centuries ahead. Oddly joyful and oddly sweet days will continue to punctuate human history, just as moments of despair and sadness will leave their marks. As I considered the tough times which touched my own life, I was amazed that I continued to find cause to feel genuinely grateful. Even in my sorrow, I’d been blessed. Trying times will always be a part of our experience on this earth. At the same time, recovery from these things will also always be a part of our lives here. You are telling me something, Lord!

When I sat at my keyboard to begin this writing, sunshine reappeared for a just a few seconds. “Where is that coming from?” I asked as I read the scriptures for this day. The readings from Malachi (3:19-20) and Luke (21:5-19) explain: We must never ever lose heart, especially when we’re tempted by despair. God insists that, regardless of our suffering here, peace and joy are the mainstay of heaven. God insists that these blessings aren’t a matter of hope. They are reality. Every day, God finds ways to fuel our hope until it is fully realized in eternity.

©2019 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

A Trilogy of Hope!

When I examined the opened bag of Halloween candy on the kitchen counter, I found that the good deacon had been trick-or-treating early. Apparently, he favors Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups because they were noticeably outnumbered by the other offerings left in our mini assortment bag of candy. As I contemplated where to hide the remainder of our Halloween cache, I realized that I hadn’t yet settled on a topic for this week’s writing. I’d read the scripture passages several times with the hope of being treated with a bit of inspiration. After I secured our Halloween treats in what I hoped was a deacon-proof hiding place, I returned to my computer. As I began to write, I admitted that the good deacon’s candy assault reminded me of how much I enjoy our annual Halloween Trilogy. Halloween, All Saints Day and All Souls Day have always been sources of great hope for me. With that, I turned my thoughts to the two men at prayer in today’s gospel. Each had exhibited hope as well.

Luke’s gospel (Luke 18:9-14) shares Jesus’ observations of these two at prayer. The Pharisee was a devout man who followed the letter of the law to the nth degree. He offered his prayer at the front of the temple. With his eyes turned upward to heaven, he prayed, “O God, I thank you that I am not like the rest of humanity…” The Pharisee listed his virtues and good works, contrasting his situation with that of the lowly tax collector who bowed down at the back of the temple. That tax collector knelt on the floor with his head bent low. He dared not raise his eyes as he prayed, “O God, be merciful to me a sinner.” As I reflected upon this scene, it occurred to me that the reason for both men’s prayer was hope. Though they displayed their hope with very different attitudes and words, each man came to the temple with hope in God’s promises. After giving those present a moment to consider the scene, Jesus assured them that the tax collector’s hope was fulfilled by the Lord. This poor man had asked for forgiveness and he received it. The Pharisee, on the other hand, had asked for nothing. What did he receive in return? Both men prayed with hope, one daring to hope for God’s mercy and one quite hopeful that he already stood in God’s favor.

As I prepared to write, I smiled with the hope that I’d saved our Halloween candy from totally disappearing before this year’s trick-or-treaters came to the door. Afterward, I directed my hope toward Halloween Trilogy 2019. The costumed urchins who roam our neighborhoods on Halloween don’t realize that they’re echoing the efforts of long ago pagans who dressed in eerie garb to detract from the church’s celebration of All Saints’ Day. I’m glad that the children among us are unaware of the roots of their annual quest for candy. On this day, ignorance is bliss! They’re free to be children filled with the hope that they’re bags will hold as much candy as possible by the time trick-or-treat hours end.

While sorting through that Halloween candy, we adults turn our thoughts to November 1 which is All Saints Day. On this special day, we honor the souls who’ve gone before us to make their homes in heaven. They include all who enjoy God’s company in eternity, but who may not have been formally declared saints by the church. When we celebrate All Saints Day, we acknowledge that even at our worst, we hold the potential for sainthood within us. This is a bit of hope which I contemplate every Halloween as I dole out candy to the princesses, super heroes, hobos and vampires who make their way to my door. As my amused eyes soak them in, I wonder if God looked with equal amusement upon the Pharisee and tax collector who portrayed their hope so differently that day in the temple. As for me, I hope that God looks with amusement upon each of us as we journey home to heaven. I also hope that God is as generous with the blessings we need as we are with our Halloween candy. Actually, considering the number of Reese’s that went missing from the Penich candy supply, I hope God is more generous than we are!

The third day of our trilogy is November 2, All Souls Day (The Commemoration of All the Faithful Departed). On this day, we remember all of our loved ones who’ve passed away. None of us is certain of how God handles our imperfections when we take them with us from this life to the next. Nonetheless, we are certain that these imperfections are met with mercy. This is the reason both the Pharisee and the tax collector prayed in the temple that day. Each came with the hope that God would listen because God loved him. It is our hope in the same loving and merciful God which urges our prayer for our loved ones who’ve passed away. Indeed, the potential for sainthood remains within them and within us all.

Hope-in-waiting and hope-fulfilled are the driving forces behind this week of goblins and witches, saints and souls. As I enjoy this trilogy of hope, I’ll pray that both the Pharisee and the tax collector within each of us will also walk among the saints one day.

©2019 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Short, Sweet and To The Point…

“This is how you are to pray….”
Luke 11:2

Not long ago (and several times before that), my husband observed that what others say in two sentences, I say in two paragraphs. I responded that I simply provide my listeners with important details. Still, I admitted to myself that there is truth in his observation. So it is that I’ve taken his words to heart. While the change in my conversational style is minimal, my ability to listen has improved immensely. Though I’ve always been a good listener, I’d like to think that I’m becoming quite an expert these days. In the process, I’ve discovered that the better part of a good conversation is what my partner has to say.

Jesus seemed to be making a similar point when he taught his disciples how to pray. In spite of all of the psalms and scripture passages available to him, for his lesson, Jesus chose the few and powerful words that would become the Lord’s Prayer. If Jesus shared that prayer today, he might say: Loving God, you are the best parent I will ever have. You who reside in heaven are deserving of my praise. I ask that your will be done because your plans will take me to far better places than my own plans ever will. I ask for my daily bread because you will always provide for me. I ask to be forgiven because you always forgive. I take your care to heart, I forgive those who hurt me and I will care for others as you do. So be it!

Dear God, just as Jesus gave me words with which to pray, give me words to share with those you’ve given me to love today and always.

©2019 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Be There For Him

“You always have the poor with you,
but you do not always have me.”

John 12:8

An unexpected “invitation” to babysit for our granddaughters urged me to organize and to prioritize in short order. After adjusting my schedule and completing another of the tasks at hand, I sat to relax at our kitchen table. Though this isn’t our home’s most comfortable place to sit, its position next to a large patio door makes it very special. The views of our backyard and side yard that day included the greening lawn and budding bushes. Nature’s miraculous resurrection hinted at all that Jesus accomplished that first Holy Week so long ago. “There’s a story here,” I told myself.

I didn’t continue my musing because a gentle tap distracted me. A lovely dove sat staring at me from the large barren flowerpot outside that patio door. Though such visitors usually fly off when I draw closer, the dove remained, content to stare back at me. A ray of sunshine caused her feathers to take on a heavenly aura. As I wondered what this dove was up to, it occurred to me that she likely wondered the same about me. This is Holy Week, the week I’d promised to walk with Jesus.

I’d promised to recall all that happened to Jesus and to be there for him. My beautiful feathered friend encouraged me to do just that. I returned to the story which had come to mind a minute earlier. I put myself in Jesus’ shadow as it unfolded. Though I wasn’t able to change the outcome, I changed everything simply by being there.

This week, it’s our turn to love and to comfort and to be there for this Jesus who changed everything for us.

Dear God, thank you for that sweet dove’s reminder to express my appreciation tangibly by keeping watch with Jesus.

©2019 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

More Than A Statistic

There was an inscription over his head:
THIS IS THE KING OF THE JEWS

From Luke 23:38

The Ninth Station: Jesus Falls The Third Time

Jerusalem is an extremely busy place. It was the same in Jesus’ day. Though I can’t imagine ignoring the approach of a bloodied man carrying a cross beam, many who went about their business that dark Friday did just that. The ominous presence of Roman soldiers kept busy business people and shoppers on their own way and off Jesus’ path. If they noticed, none had the courage to respond when Jesus fell. No one cared that this one was far more than the King of the Jews.

When I walked the streets of Jerusalem the first time, I was taken by the narrowness of those busy byways. Oddly, the locals navigated between and around one another quite easily. I wondered if we tourists were simply a part of the landscape to which they’d become accustomed. When I turned my thoughts back to Jesus’ day, I wondered further. Was Jesus just a part of the landscape as well? Was Jesus just another statistic in the vast database of Roman cruelty?

As for you and me, whether we’re standing upright or crumpled under the weight of our troubles, God takes notice. We’re never a statistic in God’s database. We’re on God’s mind and in God’s heart… ALWAYS!

Dear God, you love us more than we realize. Help us to share that love with those we meet along the way.

©2019 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

God Lifts Us Up

The people stood there watching
and the leaders kept jeering at him…

From Luke 23:55

The Seventh Station: Jesus Falls The Second Time

When I was in The Holy Land, I walked in the vicinity of Jesus’ trek to his own crucifixion. I learned that the walk to Golgotha wasn’t as long as one might think. The Romans carried out their crucifixions fairly close to the city gates, perhaps for their own security. We don’t know how often Jesus fell under that crossbeam. Still, I feel certain that he fell. Again, I wonder why he got up.

I’ve shared over the past several months that I’d had an encounter with my own variety of suffering. Though this experience was nothing in the shadow of Jesus’ passion, I struggled just the same. It seemed that every time I felt I’d overcome my misery, a tiny reminder crept up to insist that this wasn’t the case. Still, when I lay under the weight of each relapse, God’s presence around me and within me urged me up to try again. I can only imagine that Jesus sensed the same every step of the way. During his life among us, Jesus took every opportunity to steal away from the crowds to seek his Beloved Parent’s company. When he fell under the weight of that wood, it was only natural for Jesus to turn to the One who knew every detail of his suffering. It was only natural for that One to respond. Jesus got up because of the Divine Presence which accompanied him.

Every time the trials and tribulations of this life cause us to fall, God who endures our suffering with us urges us up as well.

Loving God, thank you for your good company.

©2019 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved