Make Your Difference Now

Yes, it is coming and shall be fulfilled,
says the Lord God. This is the day I have decreed.

Ezekiel 39:8

During our prior visits to Israel, we visited Megiddo-Armageddon. This time, other sites were added to our itinerary. As a result, we did a slow drive-by of this location. This didn’t disappoint me. You see, that beautiful park is said to be the eventual setting of the final battle at the end of the world. Biblical references to the end times have never drawn me in. This world is a difficult place. I can’t imagine that this world’s “last days” can bring any worse than the atrocities so many have suffered throughout human history. So it is that I look beyond these references to more hopeful passages. It is my hope for better things to come which sustains me.

The optimist in me is convinced that, if I am present for this final unraveling of human history, it will end in God’s favor. Though more fundamental believers will cringe at my next sentence, I would be dishonest if I didn’t write it. I cannot concern myself with the end times because the most important times in my life are the series of moments I’m given today and every day. It’s up to me to use every one of those moments to love and to appreciate God’s gifts to me and to love and care for my neighbor as myself.

Of course, what happens in the end is important. However, what we do before the end is just as important. We really can make all of the difference in the world!

Compassionate God, only you know where we are headed. Be with us every step of the way.

©2020 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Inspired To Carry On

All the ends of the earth have seen
the salvation of God.

Psalm 98:3cd

On this second day of the New Year unfolds, I’m inspired by faith and hope. I’ve encountered these virtues in people whom many view as having little reason for either. A friend who continues cancer treatment celebrated Christmas bravely. He embraces 2020 with the certainty that blessings lie ahead. Family members and friends who placed a husband and dad, grandpa and father-in-law, brother and cousin and best friend into God’s hands over the past few months mourn their losses by supporting those who mourn with them with unrivaled love. A discouraged friend who gives herself in service to others day in and day out now sees that her hope is fulfilled in everyone she touches. She’s learning to accept their thanks graciously and to take time for herself on occasion.

Too many in our human family suffer the worst this life has to offer. Each one endures his or her personal variety of devastation. It is God’s presence at their sides which encourages our hope that each one will endure and emerge with grace.

It really is true that God’s salvation extends to all the ends of the earth. It’s up to us to open our eyes to see it, our arms to embrace it and our hearts to share it.

Loving God, wherever I find myself today, help me to move beyond my own trials with faith and hope in better things to come. In the process, help me to encourage others to do the same.

©2019 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

It’s All About Love

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times… Things seem not to have changed much since Charles Dickens penned these words to open the first chapter of A TALE OF TWO CITIES*. Dickens released his book chapter by chapter in a weekly journal he debuted in March 1859. I dreaded tackling this book when it was assigned reading in high school. However, in the wake of recent news, I find Dickens’s opening observations to be quite pertinent. It seems that these sentiments have described the human experience since the beginning of time…

October 27, 2018 was a truly enjoyable Saturday until it wasn’t. That morning, a man driven by hatred shot his way into a Pittsburgh synagogue where he murdered eleven worshipers. He wounded six others in the process. When I heard this news, I immediately lost interest in the M&M packets I was pouring into the large bowl near our front door. Donning my most-orange flannel shirt to greet Gurnee’s trick-or-treaters no longer amused me. Though the aroma of beef stew simmering in our crock pot did its best to entice me, I had no appetite. What should have been a carefree day had morphed into a period of mourning over the loss of yet another measure of our humanity. I found myself in the worst of times.

In spite of the amazingly polite and appreciative trick-or-treaters who frequented our door, my thoughts returned to that synagogue and to similar events which have rocked my world. It was April 1968, when another of our fellow humans assassinated Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. A heartbroken junior in high school, I couldn’t accept that any one of us could respond to the author of the I Have a Dream Speech with such hatred. A few years later, some friends were drafted to serve in Vietnam, while others thanked God that their birth dates allowed them to avoid the war and remain in college. I wrote often to the guys in the service while I protested the war here at home. I loved my friends in Vietnam and I marched as I did to bring them home as quickly as possible. The shooting at Kent State in May 1970 tore me apart once again. I cringed as I wondered how our home turf had also become a war zone. Those who lost their lives in that synagogue weren’t given the time to ask that question. Our neighbors in violence-ridden neighborhoods tell us that they’ve lived in a war zone forever. So I ask, “Dear God, will it ever be the best of times?”

Before I continue, I acknowledge with genuine gratitude and joy that we’ve all been blessed with the best of times at one time or another. Perhaps this is the reason it’s so difficult to accept the terrible events which hurt us so. Perhaps this is the reason Jesus embraced his work among us with such fervor. Jesus himself was born among us in the worst of times. Roman occupiers mercilessly lorded it over the Jewish people throughout Jerusalem and the surrounding area. Herod was a tyrant who inspired ruthlessness in those who served him. When Jesus’ parents settled in Nazareth, their tiny town was overcrowded and unsafe. Still, Joseph and Mary provided Jesus a happy home there where he learned firsthand about the love of God and the love of his neighbors. Through his parents, Jesus came to know our Benevolent Creator who, above all else, loves us and wishes us the best in this life and in the hereafter. Yes, even Jesus found that the best of times can be elusive. Jesus endured the worst of times just as often as we do.

In today’s gospel (Mark 13:24-32), Mark indicates that Jesus was sometimes quite dramatic in his response to the evils around him. Jesus told the people, “In those days after that tribulation the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light, and the stars will be falling from the sky, and the powers of the heavens will be shaken.” But Jesus didn’t stop there. He went on to say, “And they will see the Son of Man coming from the clouds with great power and glory, and then he will send out the angels and gather his elect from the four winds.” Jesus seemed to say to them and to us, “Yes, this too shall pass!” Jesus knew God’s love and God’s intent for our happiness firsthand. This is the reason Jesus came. This is the reason Jesus shared in our trial and tribulations, pointing out all the while the joy to be found in God’s love for us, in loving God and in loving one another. When happier times seemed too elusive to imagine, Jesus called the people’s attention to the joy to be found in the things to come. Jesus assured all who would listen that the worst of times served to make the best of times all the sweeter!

When I look back upon the difficult times in my life, I’m amazed that I made it through them. At the same time, when I look back upon the happiest times of my life, I’m amazed at my capacity for joy. Though I’m tempted to wonder what God was thinking in all of this, I need only to turn to Jesus. Jesus would be first to say, “Love, Mary. In the best of times and the worst of times, it’s all about love.”

©2018 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

*Charles Dickens, A TALE OF TWO CITIES, Book the First, The Period, page 1, March 1859.

From Mourning to Joy

How great is the goodness, O Lord,
which you have in store.

From Psalm 31:20

My husband has always exhibited great compassion for those who’ve lost a loved one. Still, his empathy grew exponentially as a result of his work as a hospice chaplain. This is the reason that he willingly presides over wake services and funerals when asked. Regardless of his busy schedule, Mike adjusts his plans whenever he can to accommodate those in mourning.

On one such occasion, a woman’s remains were being sent from out-of-state for her funeral and burial. Her family had no local church affiliation, so Mike agreed to do the service. When he asked about the person who’d passed, he discovered that this fifty-eight-year-old was disabled and had been cared for by her parents all of her life. By this time, their ages prevented them from traveling, but they wanted their child to rest in peace with their other departed family members. One day, these parents will do the same.

In spite of their advanced ages and their daughter’s difficult life, the woman’s parents deeply grieved her loss. Still, they couldn’t help sharing the joy their daughter offered them at the end of her life. “Just before Ella passed away, she told us that she was going with Jesus and she smiled. How can we cry after hearing that?” Mike responded by sharing the homily he would offer at Ella’s service with her parents over the phone. This time, he knew there was no need to persuade mourners that their loved one had embraced eternal life. He simply mourned with them and smiled with them over what they now knew to be true.

Gentle God, touch the hearts of those who mourn with a glimpse of the peace Ella shared with her mom and dad that day.

©2018 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

What Faith!

So he went in and said to them, “Why this commotion and weeping?
The child is not dead…”

Mark 5:39

The funeral director called my husband to request a favor. A woman’s remains would be brought in from out-of-state for a funeral and burial. Since her family had no local church affiliation, my husband was asked to do the service. As he prepared, Mike asked about the person who had passed and her family. He discovered this fifty-eight year old person was disabled and had been cared for by her elderly parents all of her life. By this time, their age prevented them from traveling. Still, they wanted their child to rest in peace with their other departed family members. One day, these parents will do the same.

In spite of their own advanced ages and their daughter’s difficult life, these parents deeply grieved her loss. At the same time, they couldn’t help sharing the bit of joy their daughter offered them at the end of her life. “Just before Ella passed away, she told us that she was going with Jesus and she smiled. How can we cry after hearing that?” Mike responded by sharing the homily he would offer at Ella’s service with her parents. This time, he knew there was no need to persuade mourners that their loved one had embraced eternal life. He simply mourned with them and smiled with them over what they now knew to be true.

Gentle God, touch the hearts of every parent who has lost a child with a glimpse of the peace Ella shared with her mom and dad.

©2017 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Heavenly Hospitality

Be glad and rejoice,
for your reward is great in heaven…

From Matthew 5:12

Throughout that week in Israel, our guide Yossi provided numerous opportunities for us to mingle with the local people. He did so in Akko by arranging our visit to an authentic Turkish bath. The centuries-old building which housed the facility sported a deceptively small entrance. As we made our way indoors, we saw that the tiny reception area gave way to several spacious chambers where patrons relaxed.

Before beginning our tour, the owner insisted upon welcoming each of us with a small glass of exotic juice. He was very proud of this setting and he wanted us to relax and to enjoy our time with him. Because several clients were engaged in the facility’s offerings, we were asked to observe quietly so as not to intrude upon their relaxation. We obliged as every one of us would have happily volunteered for a demonstration. The patrons seemed oblivious to our presence as they were thoroughly engrossed in their various treatments.

From the moment we entered that Turkish bath, it was evident that the comfort of every visitor was of the utmost importance. Though the owner knew that none of us would have the time to purchase the bath’s services, he welcomed us just the same. In spite of the warmth which permeated that place, I shivered a bit as I observed the ancient brick walls which surrounded us. I almost said aloud, “This place is as old as God!” Though those words were best left unsaid, these aren’t: That Turkish bath owner had inadvertently given us a taste of the welcome God will extend to each of us one day.

Generous God, thank you for your many subtle reminders
of all that we have to look forward to.

©2017 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved