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

J… Joy

The Lord has sent me to bring
glad tidings to the poor,
to proclaim liberty to captives,
recovery of sight to the blind
and release to prisoners…

Luke 4:18

J is for Joy. Sometimes it’s difficult to focus on joy. A recent off-the-cuff comment opened an old wound. Though I tend to let go of hurts from the past, my heart ached. I distracted myself by perusing the newspaper which increased my melancholy exponentially. I set aside the paper and grabbed the remote. As I surfed the channels, a news report caught my eye. The update confirmed that recent violence was accomplished to honor God’s name. I sank into my recliner, looked out the window and asked, “Dear God, what are we doing?”

We humans have been hurting one another in God’s name since the beginning of time. Still… Before I could repeat my question, a strong gust scattered glitter-like snow across the frozen ground. Almost on cue, several birds fluttered about, ensuring that those sparkling bits of ice remained afloat. When the birds congregated at their favorite feeder, another gust lifted the silver-white specks yet higher. That gust lifted my heart as well. “Thank you, Lord!” I said aloud.

Though that glistening snow didn’t change the subzero temperature outdoors, it filled me with winter’s beauty. Though those flitting flakes will eventually settle and melt, God’s handiwork surrounds me. As long as some of us continue to appreciate the joy within us and around us, there will be joy in this world of ours. Rather than allowing ourselves to be overwhelmed by wounds old and new, let’s revel in the joy and share that joy with one another at every opportunity.

Generous God, you share your joy with us through Creation, through those you have given us to love and through your presence deep within us. Help us humans to focus on your joy in spite of our continuing attempts to distort and disfigure it.

©2020 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

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

The Small Stuff Matters…

“For the one who is least among all of you
is the one who is greatest.”

From Luke 9:48

A recent walk around a nearby lake reminded me of just how small I am. This particular lake offers only a tiny beach area. The remainder of its circumference is lined with very tall trees and dense foliage. The greenery is interrupted only by a narrow path just wide enough for two. As I walked, I felt like a tiny ant in the grand scheme of things. Though the lot where I left my car was actually only a block away, I felt lost in the forest around me.

I feel very small at other times as well. In spite of my best efforts, it seems that I can’t do much to solve the problems of this world. Wars continue to be fought. Poverty continues in full force. Political interests overpower the good of the many and on it goes. I ask myself if there is anything I can do to make an important difference.

It is in the midst of this lament that I recall Jesus’ words regarding our need to become children once again. Little girls and boys don’t over-think things. (Remember when I mentioned little Christian’s kindness to Conner the other day?) Children simply observe the situation at hand and they respond accordingly. It occurs to me that I do my best work when I follow their lead. I do have the capacity to change the world. It is through my seemingly insignificant efforts that I bring peace, sustenance and justice to one soul at a time.

Dear God, the small things we do for one another make a world of difference after all. Thank you!

©2019 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

How Will We Change The World?

Peace!… Do not be afraid!
Go and carry the news…

From Matthew 28:9-11

Though eighteen years have passed, I’ll never forget my whereabouts Tuesday morning, September 11, 2001…

I was driving to school when a report of an airliner crashing into the World Trade Center interrupted the local news. The assistant principal and I were discussing that horrific accident when the second assault in New York occurred. Fortunately, our students were all in the building by that time. When the Pentagon was hit, area schools were put in “lock-down” mode. Classroom teachers secured their doors and kept their students inside while the rest of us patrolled the hallways and saw to it that no unidentified individuals entered. Our school district served both local children and the children of military personnel assigned to the military installation just blocks away. Each of us prayed fervently that the base wouldn’t be the next target…

Though eighteen years have passed, I’ll never forget the heroic effort which unfolded by midday, September 11, 2001…

The morning’s devastation horrified us all, yet bravery and selflessness reigned. Uncommon generosity became the norm. Those nearby joined hands to do everything possible to care for those who’d been hurt. Many more did the same during the months and years that followed. This world has never been the same since that day…

I was convinced that nothing would change this world as dramatically as that infamous day did and I was wrong. The actions of those hijackers inspired subsequent assaults. The actions of those first responders and those who who continued their efforts for months and years afterward inspired selflessness and generosity beyond all of our expectations.

What will change the world around us today? It’s up to you and me…

Loving and Merciful God, give us hearts which desire peace and hands to build that peace wherever we are.

©2019 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Let Us Pray…

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

Psalm 117:1

I’m one of a small team of writers who prepare the Prayer of the Faithful which we offer at Sunday Mass each weekend. These communal prayers address the needs of the world, the church, our families and the community-at-large. I admit that I’ve struggled with this task as of late. There is so much misunderstanding and dissonance in this world of ours. Though I habitually offer my own prayers for war-torn countries and their people, I now do the same for neighborhoods nearby where similar suffering has taken hold.

While I will continue to do my best when preparing these prayers, I also need to do my best regarding the unrest which has touched us all. I’m determined to do what I can do to fix what I can. In my own interactions, I will respond peacefully when turmoil arises. I will respond with love when confronted with hate. I will listen to shouts and try to understand. And I will pray. In spite of the fact that our troubles are in full view before God, I will pray. Just talking to God about all of this will help me to see a bit more clearly as God sees. Perhaps I’ll come away from these encounters with our Loving Creator with the energy and the ideas to do even more.

Loving and Patient God, give us peaceful hearts with which to love one another. Transform our small efforts into instruments of your love.

©2019 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved