God Is With Us… ALWAYS!

Throughout most of our seventy-plus stay-in-place days, I’ve been on a bit of a roll. Last week, I shared that leisurely mornings have allowed me to organize my thoughts and my heart each day with our benevolent Creator in mind. Almost every day, my husband-the-deacon and I have also made time for a walk outdoors. Even on the cloudiest bad-news days, I’ve managed to find reason to appreciate God’s goodness in it all. I began this paragraph by saying, “Throughout most of our seventy-plus stay-in-place days…” because the other day was quite different. For perhaps obvious reasons, I vacillated between anger and despair over the suffering and loss caused by our bout with COVID-19 and our inability to work together as one people to fight it. In an effort not to give in to these feelings, I gave Mike a peck on his cheek, grabbed my hoodie and headed outdoors. I fully intended to clear my head and my heart in the process.

That day, the temperature struggled to reach fifty degrees in spite of the sunshine. I stuffed my hands into my pockets as I made my way down our cul-de-sac. I went on toward village hall and into the subdivision to the north. As I walked along the winding streets, a chilling breeze blew open my jacket. I zipped up and pulled my hood over my head. I looked toward the cloudless sky and declared, “Not funny!” Afterward, I picked up my pace just enough to create my own heat as I continued on my way. Eventually, I warmed up and inadvertently began to do what I most often do during my walks. I lost myself in Nature. I looked at the branches of every tree I passed to check on its leaves. Not many months ago, green leaves turned yellow and brown and then fell to the ground to be trampled or blown away. This cycle has continued in the buds and young leaves which now burst forth from charcoal branches overhead. Though the wind continued its brisk assault, I no longer minded.

As I walked on, I looked skyward again. This time, I whispered an apology. I acknowledged that the cold breeze which pushed me along earlier had accomplished much more. Though that breeze gave me a chill, it also gave me the peace and comfort which I’d longed for. I’d fretted so about that virus’s attack on life as we once knew it that I’d forgotten the Source of that life. I’d worried so about our inability to work together in dealing with all of this that I’d forgotten all of the good people who have and continue to do just that. It finally occurred to me that perhaps God has something far more valuable for me to experience during this pandemic than anger and despair. God didn’t cause that virus which wreaks havoc on our lives. However, God did create us with the ability to respond to it. It is God’s faith in us and love for us which breathes life into our efforts. With that, I looked up once again. That time, I said, “Thank you, dear God, for remaining with me and with all of us. Just help us to take notice of your presence more often!” Before I could add an “amen” to my prayer, the wind blew my hood off of my head and pressed my sleeves against my arms. I took that as God’s assurance that I never walk alone. None of us do.

I share all of this as we celebrate Pentecost Sunday with good reason. This is the last day of Easter Season 2020 and what an unusual season this has been! Our lives changed drastically in mid-March when staying-in-place became the norm. Without warning, we lost access to life as we once knew it. The same was true for Jesus’ friends two thousand years ago. The poor disciples had given up everything to follow Jesus and, as their final trip to Jerusalem drew closer, they were in a far worse frame of mind than I was when I set out for my walk the other day. While I had lost my focus for a bit, the disciples were on the verge of losing Jesus. Though we can see light at the end of the tunnel today, Jesus’ followers could not. They watched him taken prisoner, deserted him when he needed them most and then watched him die on that cross from afar. What worse could have happened?

John’s gospel offers a different Pentecost account than the gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke. These three speak of Jesus’ resurrection, subsequent appearances and his ascension into heaven. It was after Jesus’ ascension that the Holy Spirit set the disciples on fire and spurred them into action. Today’s gospel from John (20:19-23) ushers us back to the first Easter. It was on that day, when the disciples heard of the empty tomb, yet still hid in absolute fear, that Jesus appeared. It was on that evening, when the circumstances of Jesus suffering and death were fresh in their minds, that Jesus appeared. The first words Jesus spoke were, “Peace be with you!” Like that quiet presence which walked with me the other day, Jesus slipped into that room to walk with his friends through their grief and fear. Jesus added, “Receive the Holy Spirit!” With those words, Jesus promised his friends that they would never ever be alone.

You know, God’s presence isn’t always tangible. Though God used that breezy day to renew my peace, I still sometimes walk in the fearful disciples’ sandals just as we all do. It is during times such as these that we must let go of our worry and embrace Jesus’ Pentecost promise: God’s Spirit is with us when we need God most, now as our new normal unfolds, and always!

©2020 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Smile!

Love kindness and walk humbly with God.
From Micah 6:8

I smile. When I pass anyone anywhere, I smile. I smile even when I’m outdoors walking. Neither drizzle nor cloudy skies dampen my fascination with the beauty around me. These days, I smile throughout our daily walks. After all, they offer a precious opportunity not to stay-in-place for an hour.

My husband and I begin our walks with a discussion regarding the day’s route. Afterward, we go on to more interesting topics such as our children and grandchildren. We plan the rest of our meals for the day and discuss the possibility of tackling a project in the house or the yard when we return home. I usually end the conversation by moaning about my lack of progress on my book and the posts I need to complete for the coming week.

Throughout this conversation, Mike and I often pass two or three people along the way. As soon as we spot each other, we begin planning our social distancing strategy. If the person approaching doesn’t move, we reroute enough to leave at least twelve feet between us. Far apart as we are, Mike says “Hello” and I smile and add, “Stay safe!” When we began these walks several weeks ago, those we passed rarely responded. In time, however, these fellow walkers began to respond in kind.

You know, all of our lives have been rerouted by the COVID-19 pandemic. So it seems the perfect time to smile at every opportunity. If our efforts catch on, we might find ourselves in a far better place sooner ever!

Loving God, smile on us and be with us as we do the same for one another.

©2020 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

So Much To Be Grateful For…

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

Psalm 145:10

This morning, I went out to walk around our backyard. There isn’t much to see these days except for bare trees, empty flowers beds and a few small patches of snow. It was when I walked to the front of the house that our Thanksgiving display caught my eye. Peanuts characters Lucy, Snoopy and Charlie Brown happily enjoy pumpkin pie in our front yard. Since our grandchildren enjoyed our Halloween Peanuts display, we’ve added the Thanksgiving edition of my favorite cartoon characters. Though these three are the work of Charles Schultz’s imagination, they elicited very real feelings of gratitude from me. When I considered their elation over that pie, I couldn’t help feeling the same over so much more…

Suddenly, the blue of the sky and those leafless trees which I’ve seen a hundred times filled me with awe. Chirping birds who should be well on their way south elicited a smile as they enjoyed lunch at our bird-feeders. Even the chubby squirrels who made a meal of the birds’ leftovers gave me reason to feel grateful.

It seems I’ve received a lesson in Creation’s wisdom without leaving my own yard. The blue sky that beckoned my eyes toward heaven and the trees who continuously raise their arms upward encourage me to do the same. Their very existence points to God’s glory. Those birds and squirrels who so happily enjoy their daily bread remind me that I’m blessed to do the same. Perhaps I’m on this earth to point others in heaven’s direction as well.

It seems to me that being a part of God’s creation is a privilege and honor and something for which to be especially thankful.

Generous God, I am grateful to be a part of your handiwork. Help me to express my gratitude by taking on your generous ways.

©2019 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Our Friends Above

The souls of the just are in the hand of God…
From Wisdom 3:1

Before sitting at my keyboard today, I walked. As I grabbed my jacket, I heard raindrops tapping on the window. “Thank God for hoods,” I said as I headed out the door.

I don’t mind walking in the rain. My willingness to endure downpours great and small bolsters my sense of well-being. Walking in the rain also offers a unique perspective to which I’m usually not privy. Everything looks different in the rain. The sky exhibits great character. Who knew that there were so many varied shades of gray? Trees glisten far more subtly than they do in sunlight and far more beautifully, too. Dirty cars look newly waxed and sewer caps shine. Today, our neighborhood birds became nearly silent which allowed me to hear drops of rain falling into the pond I passed. I also heard individual drops as they pelted my hooded head.

As I walked further, I considered my loved ones who’ve passed away. This is All Souls Day and we celebrate the amazing souls who have touched our lives before moving on to the hereafter. With each loss, raindrops fell from my eyes on days much like this one. In spite of their absences which still pain me, I offered a prayer of thanksgiving for each one. I also prayed on their behalf that they enjoy the unique perspective that comes with a home in heaven. As I continued my walk, I felt quite certain that my loved ones were reminiscing as well.

Loving God, thank you for the gift of this life and the new life that will follow.

©2019 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Have A Little Faith!

A few weeks ago, friends shared that they hope to travel to Alaska one day. Now I’m not the travel aficionado that my dear husband is. Nonetheless, six years ago, we traveled to Alaska in celebration of a milestone wedding anniversary. That trip evolved into an amazing adventure and I couldn’t help encouraging our friends to visit Alaska as soon as they can. “If there’s time, include a stop at Icy Straight Point,” I told them. “You can go zip riding there!” Our friends didn’t seem particularly interested in that bit of information. As for me, just this mention of my zip riding experience filled me with excitement. Not long after that conversation, I pulled out our Alaska photo album. I wanted to bask a little longer in the wonder I’d found in our Forty-ninth State.

When I opened the album, I recalled my reluctance the morning we left. Though we’d flown long distances before, I’d worried extensively in anticipation of our departure. After the flight, we’d board a cruise ship. This was our first cruise and I had no idea of what to expect. I worried about forgetting our passports. I worried about having packed appropriate clothing and I worried that the weather forecasts might be inaccurate. I worried about our excursions. Would we enjoy them all? I worried about seasickness because I’d never been on a ship before. Most of all, I worried about that first excursion: zip riding from a mountainside over the trees in Icy Straight Point.

I admit that I looked through our album twice that day. Both times, I lingered over a photo we’d purchased after zip riding. I recalled our sons’ amazement that we’d signed up for that adventure. They asked me several times if I was sure I wanted to do this. Our sons know their parents well. Their dad is a great fan of roller coasters and their mom is not. Though Mike enjoys flying anywhere, I don’t. I’m not a fan of heights and this completely out-of-character adventure would take me more than one thousand feet above ground for a mile-long ride. I would travel well above Alaska’s tallest treetops. Still, I felt called to embrace this adventure. When Mike joined our sons in questioning the wisdom of doing so, I assured him that I really, really had to do this.

As I stared at that photo, I remembered those anxious minutes just prior to sailing over those trees. We’d found our places and strapped ourselves into something like adult-sized baby swings. The man who would release us into the air checked every seatbelt. When he was certain that all was well, he announced, “Here you go!” With that, the gates before us dropped and we sailed –No, we sped!- down the mountainside over a forest. I remembered my amazement over just how high we were. I looked over the trees and onto the inlet where our cruise ship rested. I clearly recall letting go of that swing and extending my arms as far as they’d reach. As I stared at that photo, I repeated something similar to what I’d shouted six years earlier, “Thank you, God! Thank you so much! That really was awesome!” That day, I knew that I was nestled in the strongest and gentlest of hands. I’d also shared in one of God’s best kept secrets. I’d discovered why God keeps such diligent watch over Creation. There is nothing more beautiful! I also felt closer to God than ever. Was this the reason I simply had to go zip riding that day?

When I turned to today’s scripture readings, I found a trio of answers to my question. The readings from Habakkuk (1:2-3; 2:2-4), 2 Timothy (1:6-8, 13-14) and Luke (17:5-10) speak of the things which fuel our faith in God. Habakkuk complained that his life and the world around him were complete disasters. God responded by instructing Habakkuk to revisit his dreams because his dreams would be fulfilled. In the letter to Timothy, this young man is encouraged to hold tightly to his faith because he would find God in the end. In the gospel, Jesus summarized everything. He told his friends that faith as tiny as a mustard seed is capable of ordering a tree to uproot itself from the ground and to replant itself in the sea. Jesus explained that having faith doesn’t mean that this life will unfold perfectly. However, Jesus does say that if we have faith we can somehow make things happen the way we’d like them to happen. Having faith means that we do what we do because we truly believe that we can make a difference. Faith assures us that we will find peace and absolute joy with God here and in the hereafter.

You know, I would have missed a life-changing experience if I hadn’t climbed onto that zip rider and opened myself to what God had in store for me. That leap of faith exemplified precisely what God asks of us. God knows better than we do the difficulties of life on this earth. Still, God extends an encouraging hand and urges us on. All the while, God assures us that, when we embrace the moment, the hour, the day and the lifetime that lie before us, God will be with us all the while. This is what faith is all about, even faith as small as a mustard seed!

©2019 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Always In Good Company

Give thanks to God, for God is good
and God’s mercy endures forever.

Psalm 136:1

I was a little “off” when I woke the other day. I’d enjoyed a string of busy and happily peaceful days. Still, I found myself immersed in sadness. For unknown reasons, my first thoughts that morning were steeped in relatively ancient history. I asked myself, “Why did I wake up with that on my mind?” Though I did my best to focus on happier things, nothing seemed to help. So it was that after breakfast, I bid my dear husband farewell and headed out for a walk.

As soon as I reached the front of our house, I looked back at the ever-present greenery and the colorful annuals Mike had planted this year. They’re prettier than ever and, for a few minutes, they took my mind off of those pesky old memories. As I walked further, I couldn’t miss the flowers which grace so many of our neighbors’ homes. “Thank you, Dear God, for these perfectly placed distractions!!” I prayed.

As I walked on, an uncommonly cool breeze nudged me along the way. “I love the wind, Dear God, because it reminds me that you’re with me.” As I continued on, those bothersome worries faded in the shadow of the beauty around me. Green trees seemed greener than ever. Lush lawns seemed even more beautiful. Every blossom I passed seemed to be in its prime. As I basked in all of this, that breeze continued to nudge me along the way. Finally, I realized that God was with me. Finally, I remembered that God is always with me. Finally, I knew that all would be well. Should those memories emerge once again, God will handle them with me.

Dear God, thank you for your patience, your company and your love.

©2019 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved