Nothing’s Impossible!

It was during the January 2019 deep-freeze that I set aside my errands to make good use of the time indoors. Before getting a head start on my upcoming reflections, I decided to clean my desk. Most of my work-space is actually in reasonably good order. The eight-inch high heap to the left of my keyboard is the exception. It is there that I’ve stacked inspirational items of every sort. These scribbled quotes and pamphlets, a funeral booklet, newspaper clippings, a playbill, some greeting cards, and only God and I know what else, promised to inspire my future writing in some way. As a result, I kept them. All of this is held in place by the book of scripture readings which I reference when I prepare to write for you. Before tackling that little mountain of paper, I read the passages we hear today. Perhaps I’d find a bit of inspiration as I worked…

As I worked, I scanned each item to determine whether or not to keep it. I’d made my way through two-thirds of them when I found a program from the Marriott-Lincolnshire Theatre. The good deacon and I had attended a Summer 2016 performance of Man of La Mancha there. I’d kept the program because I fell in love with the story of Don Quixote, the main character of the play, while studying Spanish in high school. My teacher worked very hard to move her students from our obsession with building our Spanish vocabularies to some appreciation of Spanish culture. We’d studied the classics which included Miguel de Cervantes’ work. When Cervantes was imprisoned during the Spanish Inquisition, he defended himself from the ruthlessness of his fellow prisoners by telling the story of Don Quixote. This delusional self-professed knight vowed to bring goodness to the world at any cost. In spite of numerous misadventures, Don Quixote saw the goodness in everything and everyone he encountered. I couldn’t help smiling to myself as I realized that my fictional friend’s quest would inspire this writing.

As I straightened the rest of those papers, I hummed my favorite songs from the play, Dulcinea and The Impossible Dream. Don Quixote believed that Aldonza, a woman of the night who worked the local inn, was the beloved about whom he’d dreamt for an eternity. He not only insisted upon addressing Aldonza as “Dulcinea”, He also sang to her, “Dulcinea, Dulcinea, I see heaven when I see thee, Dulcinea. And thy name is like a prayer…”* Needless to say, the poor woman was dumbfounded because no one, including her own mother who left her to die at birth, had ever truly cared for her. The only affection she’d experienced carried a price tag. Aldonza couldn’t fathom Don Quixote’s pledge of unconditional love and his desire to take nothing in return. When Aldonza finally asked Don Quixote why he did the things he did, he replied in song with The Impossible Dream. I’ve never listened to or sung those lyrics without tears in my eyes, perhaps because they reach to the core of everything I believe to be possible and true…

“To dream the impossible dream; to fight the unbeatable foe; to bear with unbearable sorrow; to run where the brave dare not go. To right the unrightable wrong; to love pure and chaste from afar; to try when your arms are too weary; to reach the unreachable star.”* I think you get the idea. While in high school, I believed every word. I knew everything could be and would be better, if only we made it so. When I left the theater with my dear husband three years ago, I’d saved that playbill with good reason. I’d found myself simultaneously invigorated and saddened. The exuberance came in my renewed acquaintance with Don Quixote. I was inspired and ready to meet the challenge to reach for that star with him. The sadness came with the realization that I’d become “realistic” over the years. (Don Quixote would have called me cynical!) I no longer expected things to improve as I’d hoped in my youth. Today, Jesus asks me to cast aside my cynicism and to embrace his thinking just as Don Quixote had.

Luke’s gospel (Luke 6:27-38) suggests that Jesus and Don Quixote had much more in common than the people cared to acknowledge. Jesus asked those who would follow him to pursue his impossible dream. “To you who hear I say, love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you. Pray for those who mistreat you…” Jesus’ list went on and on. Those who heard this lived in poverty and oppression. If they could have chosen their consolation, it would likely have been revenge upon their enemies. The last thing the people wanted to hear was that they must be gracious toward those who had made their lives unbearable. Yet Jesus persisted. “Dream my impossible dream,” Jesus seemed to say, “and you will enjoy the riches that belong to the children of God.” When Jesus looked upon the people, he saw the potential to create God’s kingdom on earth. When Don Quixote looked upon Aldonza, he saw heaven within her. When God looks upon you and me, God sees heaven as well. In every choice we make to do what is seemingly impossible good, God sees heaven on earth!

©2019 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

*From MAN OF LA MANCHA (1972), written by Dale Wasserman; music by Mitch Leigh; lyrics by Joe Darion

I is for I Am

Before I begin today’s reflection, I want to acknowledge that today is my mom’s birthday. I wouldn’t find it as easy as I do to recognize God’s love in my life is my mom hadn’t loved me first. It is with deep gratitude and great love that I write HAPPY BIRTHDAY, MOM!

God replied to Moses: I am who I am.
Then he added: This is what you will tell the Israelites:
I AM has sent me to you.

Exodus 3:14

I is for I AM. In spite of all of the names we humans have assigned to God, God chooses to be called “I AM.” I find great consolation in God’s chosen name because it is offered in the active present tense. This name leaves no doubt that God is, was and forever will be. Though our lives pass more quickly than we care to acknowledge, I AM will never pass from the moment at hand. It seems to me that, since I AM is the only constant of which we can be certain, it makes sense to acknowledge God’s presence with regularity and with gratitude.

I’m slightly embarrassed to admit that I tend to monopolize this God of ours much of the time. Some days, it is as though we are in conversation from morning until night. I’m also embarrassed to admit that these conversations are sometimes one-sided, not because God has nothing to say, but because I rarely give God the opportunity to speak. This is when God takes things into God’s own hands to get my attention. These nudges come most often in the beauty of nature, an unexpected encounter, a great idea or encouraging words. Fortunately for me, God always finds a way to let me know that God hears everything I say.

Perhaps I can best show my gratitude for the gift of God’s presence by making God’s invitation to Moses my own. Rather than standing before the people to announce that I AM has sent me their way, I can simply reveal God’s presence through my own presence to them.

Loving God, help me to make your presence tangible, especially to those who consider themselves less-than-lovable today.

©2019 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Aging Happily!

Only goodness and kindness shall follow me
all the days of my life.

Psalm 23:6

In a few weeks, I’ll be a year older. I admit that I fully appreciate the opportunity to hang on to each year’s newly awarded number for the duration. After all, I usually don’t get used to my new “age” until a few months into it. I also admit that the efforts of my husband, our sons, our daughters-in-law and our grandkids sooth the sting of getting older. I find great pleasure in all of their secretive planning. The behind-the-scenes activity is the best part of whatever will transpire.

This wasn’t the case when I was a little girl. I had one birthday party. Because our household budget was perpetually stretched to its limit, I continue to be amazed that I dared to ask for this party and that my mom agreed to host it. I have no recollection of the planning. I recall that my three friends joined me for ice cream, cake and games that day. I remember my best friend’s gift because he slipped that shiny half-dollar into my hand ever so gently. This party was extremely important to me because I longed for the recognition that only a “birthday boy” or “birthday girl” receives. In the end, however, I was completely overwhelmed by it all. Because my shyness kept me from enjoying that limelight, I stood by and watched.

This year’s birthday and the many I’ve shared with my family are quite different. There is never cause for shyness because these are my very own family. I’m never uneasy or self-conscious with them because my roles as wife and Mom and Grandma are steeped in shared love. What is there to be overwhelmed by, except the joy of it all?

Loving God, once again I thank you for my loved ones, the gift of their love and the gift of your love..

©2019 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Who Am I?

“But you -who do you say that I am?” he asked them.
Peter said in reply, “The Messiah of God.”

Luke 9:20

I wear many hats. These include daughter, sister, cousin, student, friend, adversary, aunt, teacher, wife, in-law, mom, mother-in-law, colleague, author, grandma, administrator, volunteer, retiree, encourage-er, listener, annoying one. The list goes on and on, as it does for us all. Some who know me might urge me to add a few more complimentary titles. Others might encourage me to add a role or an adjective of which I’m not particularly proud. I’m painfully honest when I also say that, in spite of this list, I sometimes don’t know who I am at all.

It is during life’s most confusing and most difficult times that I jump at the chance to answer the question Jesus posed to his followers so long ago: “Who do you say that I am?” My answer has made all of the difference in the world to me. You see, Jesus’ words convinced me of God’s love for me. Jesus’ example taught me to love my enemies as well as my friends. Jesus’ parables convinced me that I can never do anything which God will not forgive. Jesus is the one who assured me that, miserable as I can be at times, he would lay down his life for me alone. Who is Jesus? Jesus is the one through whom I have learned to live as best I can, not in spite of, but because of who I am.

Generous God, you have gifted me with Jesus -his words, his works, his life and his love. Thank you for offering us all this amazing glimpse of who you are and who we are meant to be.

©2017 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Perfect In God’s Eyes

I’ve engaged in a writing frenzy as of late. My husband and I will travel to Israel soon and I have to complete several of these reflections before we leave. I’m grateful that the scriptures are rich in inspiration. Unfortunately, I’ve hindered my own progress at the moment by fixating upon the last line of a passage from Matthew’s gospel (Matthew 5:38-48) today. After telling his disciples that they must rise above the expectations of those around them, Jesus added, “So be perfect, just as your heavenly Father is perfect.” While I’m not certain of the disciples’ feelings about this expectation, Jesus’ seems to challenge me beyond my capabilities. Perfection isn’t easy to come by for me or for any of us for that matter!

I have reason for my discouragement. While looking for a flash drive to share some files, I found a used one with a little tag on it which read, “I Met God…Book”. I cringed over this discovery as I haven’t given much thought to that book as of late. I started writing it four years ago. Though I have ninety pages completed, I’ll need to double them to complete my story. Many who read my reflections remark that they look forward to these encounters. I take these kind words to heart every time I hear them. As a result, I decided some time ago to share the source of my inspiration through my book. Though my lifetime to date is as flawed as I am, it provides many of the stories which I share here. While I’m uncertain of the Almighty’s motives, I’m quite certain that God has been extremely generous in using my life’s circumstances to inspire me.

It seems that everyone and everything I experience sheds light on God’s love and God’s presence among us. I can’t walk our cul-de-sac or the mall without being reminded of God along the way. My book tells the story of this phenomenon’s evolution throughout my life. The problem is that whenever I return to my manuscript, I edit everything I’ve written to date. Every time I complete a chapter, I second-guess my effort. This compels me to reread and to edit even further. When I found that flash drive the other day, I wondered if I will ever finish that book. And, if I do finish it, I admit that it won’t be perfect.

Fortunately, I don’t always have to rely on my own resources when I prepare for these writings. Obviously, I read the scriptures. The good news is that I also reference commentaries when in doubt about a particular passage. These commentaries explain vocabulary and other background information which is unfamiliar to those of us who aren’t scripture scholars. When I returned to today’s readings one last time, I reread the commentary regarding today’s gospel. “How could I have missed this?” I asked myself. The notes I found explain that the word “perfect” which Jesus used to describe God comes from an ancient word for entire, complete and full-grown. When I considered this, I realized that God doesn’t expect any of us to be without flaws. Rather, God asks only that we evolve into entire, complete and full-grown versions of ourselves. Apparently, this is quite enough for our loving Creator.

Whenever you and I put our best efforts into the things we do, we work toward becoming entire, complete and full-grown. Jesus asked his disciples to “be perfect, just as your heavenly Father is perfect” in the unique manner in which each one was capable. This is also all that God asks of you and me. With that, I returned to this writing, but not to the frenzy. Finally, I realized that God will never stop recognizing the potential in me. As long as I plug away as best I can, I’m making myself a bit more entire, complete and full-grown. God chooses not to ignore our capacity to be perfect in these ways; nor should we. So it is that God invites us to embrace our circumstances and to make the best of them as only we can. With every attempt, we emerge a bit more entire, a bit more complete and a bit more full-grown. In the end, we really are perfect in God’s eyes.

Maybe I’ll finish my book after all…

©2017 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved