The Bright Side

With me at your right hand,
you will not be shaken.

Psalm 16:8

My husband gingerly eased into his recliner, saying, “My shoulder really hurts.” Then he quickly added, “But if this is the worst that happens today, I’m a lucky person.”

Our life together hasn’t been trauma free. Still, my husband and I try to look at the brighter side of things when tragedy touches us. I was blessed with this mindset early on. My husband wasn’t. It’s taken years of nurturing his own faith as best he could for him to develop this positive stance toward life’s negatives. Though this transformation sometimes reverts to a “work in progress,” I admire Mike’s persistence.

You know, God has encouraged our faith from the beginning. When humankind failed to acknowledge the wisdom of the prophets, God sent Jesus of Nazareth to get our attention even more dramatically. Who but one from God could have conceived of the prodigal son’s forgiving father and the lost coin’s owner who turned everything upside down to find it? Who but one from God could have lived love, compassion, mercy and forgiveness with such perfection? Yet, in spite of his goodness, tragedy touched Jesus’ life as well.

It seems to me that the moral of the story is this: Because we are not yet in heaven, this life will never be perfect. Still, God loves us and remains with us in everything. This is all we need to know.

Loving God, thank you for your ongoing presence as we make our way home to you.

©2018 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

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God Holds Our Hands

I am your God
who takes hold of your right hand,
calming your fears.

Isaiah 41:13

While at the grocery store, I walked past a young woman who sported a far-too-familiar sling. It was black with lots of Velcro to hold it in place. When I looked more closely, I also saw the cushion which rested between her arm and torso. I knew that the cushion would remain in place for a few weeks. This reminder of my own once-aching shoulder caused me to shudder a bit. Years earlier, two visits to the doctor and an MRI indicated that my shoulder was in need of repair. A very short surgery, a very lengthy recovery and my fear of the unknown proved too much to bear. I survived only because my patient husband walked through my misery with me.

As I continued my shopping, I whispered a prayer for my anonymous friend. I knew firsthand what this poor woman was going through. At the same time, I acknowledged that my close encounter of the surgical kind paled considerably in light of far greater suffering in this world. Still, my pain was my pain and this woman’s pain is her own. The good news in all of this is that our pain is also God’s. When God breathed life into us, God also breathed a promise to each one of us to be with us in everything. Regardless of our position on the “pain scale”, God is with us through it all.

Even when no one else seems to understand or to care or to get it, God does.

Compassionate God, thank you for being with us in everything!

©2018 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Y is for…

My heart and my soul
cry out for God.

From Psalm 84:3

Y is for Yearning. Sometimes, only God will do.

I’ve shared before that after retiring from his first career as a school principal, my husband became a hospice chaplain. This work touched him deeply. Though we consider ourselves to be “God-aware” people, this experience brought new depth in this regard to both of us. Mike observed often that, when a patient seemed to have lost every means of communication, he or she somehow managed to acknowledge prayer. Whether by squeezing a hand, blinking an eye, smiling ever so slightly or whispering an “amen”, even those closest to death became present when it was time to pray. Some patients rapt in comas seemed to breathe more calmly when those around them prayed. When all else was said and done, God remained present to each one.

Though most of us aren’t in need of hospice care at the moment, we’re all in need of God. When no one else comprehends our suffering, it is God who experiences every detail of it with us. When we cannot mouth a single word, much less breathe without shedding more tears, God is with us.

In times of suffering when I feel that no one understands my heartbreak, I feel completely alone for only a millisecond. If I pay attention, I realize within that instant that God is with me.

Yes, sometimes, only God will do.

Merciful and loving God, thank you for satisfying my yearning with your presence.

©2018 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

X is for…

I rock with grief and am troubled…
From Psalm 55:3

X is for X-ray. Sometimes, it takes x-ray vision to get to the heart of things.

One weekend, a friend at church asked if he could speak with me. I agreed with a smile though I was slightly worried as his tone and demeanor indicated that he was troubled. When we were alone, this dear man poured out his heart. Current events both nearby and faraway had cut him to the quick. He simply couldn’t reconcile the suffering of this life with his shaky conviction that God loves us. “How can this evil exist side-by-side with God?” he asked through his tears.

You know, I would never have known about this man’s dilemma if he hadn’t shared it with me. I couldn’t peek into his aching heart because, unlike God, I don’t have x-ray vision. After we spoke, this brave fellow shared that he knew I’d understand because I’m such an expert on God’s love. I could only respond with, “Who? Me?” Didn’t he realize that though I was the one standing before him, it is God who had convinced me of all I know? Didn’t he realize that I’m no more perceptive than the next guy? I’ve just learned to let God step in to show me what to do or say.

I absolutely do not have x-ray vision, but God does. Whether we’re in need of help ourselves or in the midst of helping someone else, it is God who sees the troubles lying deep within us. It is God who shows us the way.

Compassionate God, use your x-ray vision to see our troubles and be with us as we respond to those in need.

©2018 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Peacemakers All…

Praise the Lord, all you nations;
glorify him, all you peoples.

Psalm 117:1

I recently ran into an Iraqi Christian who now makes his home in the United States. A few years ago, he shared his story with me. My heart ached over the suffering he’d endured in his homeland because of his faith. I was also deeply touched by his appreciation for his life in this country. It did my heart good to see that his joy continues.

I admit that I struggle with the knowledge that our world is filled with countries and people in distress. In places where there is no war, there is endless poverty or civil unrest or an absolute absence of freedom. Some of those who govern seem less inclined than ever to care for their citizenry. Some who would do more dare not to because of the delicate balance of power around them. I struggle because it seems that misguided motives drive conditions for too many of this world’s people.

The unrest in our world urges me to do something about the unrest around me. Though I cannot fix everything everywhere, I can at least attempt to fix things here. I can respond peacefully when turmoil arises around me and I can pray. Turning to the One who understands our troubles better than we do bolsters our efforts in amazing and unexpected ways.

Patient God, be with as we strive to love one another. Transform our small efforts into effective instruments of peace.

©2018 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Rejoice! Be Glad! Respond!

Alleluia! Rejoice and be glad! Today, we are more aware than ever of God’s unending love for us. The events of the first Easter plant seeds of unshakable hope in the hearts of all who have heard Jesus’ name. If we take nothing else from Jesus’ final days, we must at least begin to appreciate the joy which awaits us. Jesus suffered the worst our earthly existence has to offer, yet he endured. When Jesus breathed his last on that wooden cross, he opened his eyes once again to life with his Father. Today, Jesus continues to rejoice in the fruits of his thirty-three years among us. After we persevere through the seemingly tragic events of our lives, we will do as Jesus does. I write “Alleluia!” and “Rejoice and be glad!” because, when Jesus rose from the dead, he illustrated as precisely as possible all that awaits you and me.

This year, I began my Lenten Journey one month early. In mid-January, I returned to Israel for a second visit. This unexpected opportunity allowed me to delve a bit more deeply into the story behind the Holy Land’s now-familiar sites. This time, I felt very much at home in Nazareth and Magdala, at the Sea of Galilee, in Capernaum and Jerusalem. This time, I moved beyond my awe regarding these places to being completely rapt by Jesus himself. You know, Jesus literally made all of the difference in the world to humankind. Through his life among us, Jesus changed everything. As our guide shared the scriptures and his own archaeological and historical perspectives regarding Jesus’ time among us, I felt I had finally begun to understand. I began this reflection with an invitation to rejoice and be glad. It occurs to me that Jesus calls us to take one step further. Jesus asks that we rejoice and be glad and that we respond to his loving presence in our lives.

Whether we revisit Jesus’ time among us in the holy Land, in the scriptures or in the quiet of our hearts, we find innumerable examples of Jesus’ unconditional love. We also find that those whom Jesus touched responded in remarkable ways. Jesus’ conversation with the woman at the well became extraordinary when she responded by accepting Jesus’ presence in her life. She was so taken with Jesus that she ran off to tell anyone who would listen of their encounter. When Jesus cured the man born blind, the man responded with deep gratitude and then shared his good fortune with all who would listen as well. He told not only his neighbors, but also the priests in the temple. While the priests responded by expelling the now-sighted man from his place of worship, the man left filled with absolute faith in God who had gifted him with new life. In every case, those Jesus healed responded by embracing their second chances with Jesus at their sides. Though he was crucified just three years into his ministry, Jesus remained with those he was given to love until they joined him in eternity.

Today, the love which brought peace to the woman at the well is extended to us. The love which gave sight to the man born blind invites us to see with new eyes as well. The love which transformed their lives is ours today. All that God asks on this Feast of Jesus’ Resurrection is that we rejoice and be glad and that we respond by welcoming God into our lives. Though we may not have invested ourselves in failed relationships and we may not suffer from physical blindness, we have all suffered in our own way. Whether physical maladies afflict us or our loved ones, their pain and the toll they take are very real. Though our physical vision may need only a tweak, we have all been blinded by our attitudes and our emotions, our desires and our regret. We have all failed to see God’s love for us at one time or another because our suffering has clouded our perspective. These are the times when God is most insistent that we look to the cross and remember that Jesus would have endured it all for any one of us.

In Jerusalem, I peered into the tomb which biblical scholars, historians and archeologists believe to be the burial site of Jesus. As I stared into the darkness, I imagined Mary Magdalene peering into this place on the first Easter morning. Though she didn’t yet realize that she had reason to rejoice and be glad, she had certainly responded to Jesus’ presence in her life. Nothing would have kept Mary from going to the tomb that morning to minister to the one who had changed her life forever. Today, we rejoice and are glad with Mary and the rest. Just as they did, we’ve come to understand and to celebrate because the life which comes after this life is worth all of our effort. Today, Jesus and all of those who have gone before us invite us to respond to this amazing news.

This is Easter Sunday and today we begin our own quests to live with the Risen Jesus at our sides. Today, we rejoice and we are truly glad! But, most of all, we respond wholeheartedly because Jesus remains with us through whatever will come our way today and always.

©2018 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved