Thank You, Jesus!

Once Jesus… asked them, “Who do the crowds say that I am?”…
Then he said to them, “Who do you say that I am?”

From Luke 9:18-20

Like you, I’ve worn many hats throughout my life: Child, sibling, cousin, student, friend, adversary, teen, aunt, teacher, spouse, in-law, parent, colleague, author, grandma, administrator, volunteer, retiree, encourage-er, listener, annoying one. The list goes on and on. Some who know me might encourage 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’s during this life’s most confusing and 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?” This answer has made all of the difference in the world to me. You see, Jesus is the one who convinced me of God’s love for me. It is Jesus who taught me to love my enemies as well as my friends. Jesus is the one who told story after story to convince me that I can never do anything which God will not forgive. Jesus is the one who assured me that, miserable as I am, he would lay down his life for me alone. It is through the life and lessons of Jesus that I’ve learned to live as best I can, not in spite of, but because of who I am.

It is Jesus who answers whenever I ask, “Who am I?” It is Jesus who assures me, “You are God’s beloved!”

Generous God, you have gifted us with Jesus -his words, his works, his life and his love. Thank you!

©2019 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

A Bit of God

Good is the Lord…
From Lamentations 3:25

I can’t help thinking that God is always at work within us. This assertion isn’t of my own making. It’s based upon a commonly held belief that God put creation into motion. You may subscribe to the Big Bang Theory, the seven days outlined in Genesis or something in between which indicates that God fashioned all of this.

I also can’t help thinking that God didn’t create from nothing. I like to think that God began with perhaps a breath or a spark or bit of Divine DNA. I opt for the DNA Theory because this implies that everything which has evolved since carries a bit of God within it. What better reason do we have to cherish and to care for all of creation, especially one another? What better reason does God have to continue to work within us?

So it is that it seems appropriate to take stock of that bit of Divine DNA within ourselves. When we realize that God has actually created something good within each one of us, we can insert that goodness into everything we say and do. The result? We’ll embrace every moment with pep in our steps and the certainty that God is indeed at work within us.

Yes, every new moment brings another opportunity to make good use of God’s DNA. Personally, I think God had this is mind all along…

Loving God, thank you for the gift os your DNA. Help us all to make the most of your presence within us.

©2019 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

N… Name!

He called his disciples and selected twelve of them to be apostles: Simon, to whom he gave the name Peter, and Andrew, James and John, Phillip and Bartholomew, Matthew and Thomas, James son of Alphaeus, Simon called the Zealot, Judas son of James and Judas Iscariot.
From Luke 6:13-16

N is for Name. My name is Mary Ellen. My recently widowed aunt suggested this name to my mom just after I was born. In tribute to her sister, my mom gave me called me Mary Ellen. Still, every time she visited, our elderly cousin Bertha insisted upon calling me Margaret Mary. When I reminded her of my actual name, Bertha always responded with the same explanation: “Oh, I know your name. It’s just that I love the name ‘Margaret Mary’ and I love you.” Needless to say, I didn’t mind our cousin’s extra attention or her love. Both made me feel very special.

God gives us parents some latitude in naming our children. This is quite a gift since God knows the value of our names. God renamed Abram when God sent him off. Abraham would father the Jewish people. Jesus gave Simon a new name. Simon Peter became the rock upon whom Jesus built his church. Later, when Saul persecuted Jesus’ followers, Jesus stepped in and renamed him as well. Paul became one of our greatest Christian preachers.

Though my two names were bestowed with a bit less fanfare, God uses them with the same expectation. In every opportunity which comes our way, God calls all of our names with great love and with great hope in our responses.

Dear God, I will listen as you call my names, both of them!

©2019 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Special, Indeed!

“…to Timothy, my dear child:
grace, mercy, and peace from God…”

2 Timothy 1:2

This past weekend, we gathered to celebrate our newest grandchild’s baptism. I admit that this gave me reason to pause. It wasn’t all that long ago that I had held his dad in my arms. How is it that my baby is blessed with a wonderful wife and two sons of his own these days? Of course, this musing filled me with joy. I completely overlooked the fact that my son’s evolution into a father was proof positive of my own evolution into a grandma!

Throughout our gathering, I kept myself in close proximity to our newest grandchild as often as possible. Eventually, after my husband, his other grandparents and aunts and uncles stopped doting over him, I held Benjamin for a while. I took this opportunity to ask that tiny baby, “Do you know how loved you are? Are you happy with your name?” Though he closed his eyes to nap, I continued. “Your dad wasn’t at all happy with his name. He felt very badly that his was the only name in our family which didn’t begin with an M. It was only when I explained just how special Timothy was to me that your dad realized that he is special to me, too. Never forget that you’re special, Benjamin.”

With that, I relinquished that squirming little boy to his mom. As she nursed her content little son, I smiled. What better evidence of our being loved is there then our mom’s embrace? With that, I looked upward and prayed that Ben and all of my family will remember just how loved and special they are.

Loving God, each of us is special in your eyes. Help us to remind one another of this in all we say and do.

©2018 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Who Am I?

It’s been more than a dozen years since my husband began to search for his Croatian cousins. Mike was raised next door to his dad’s parents who migrated from their homeland as teens. This close proximity made Mike privy to bits and pieces of his grandparents’ story which no one else heard. It’s no wonder he engaged in a years-long search to find the family his grandparents had left behind. After extensive research, numerous phone calls and a letter to his grandfather’s childhood parish, it was his cousins’ parish priest who provided their contact information. All of this resulted in an amazing visit with Mike’s family in Krasic, Croatia. We’ve been in contact with these wonderful new additions to our family ever since.

Though I wish I could tell you that Mike was satisfied with these efforts to discover his roots, I cannot. Some years later, he began a similar search on his mother’s side of the family. Though Mike didn’t live next door, he visited his grandmother often at her home just a few miles away. Mike’s maternal grandfather had passed away just prior to Mike’s birth. As a result, his grandmother looked upon him as a blessing who filled the hole in her heart. As a child, Mike listened intently to this grandmother’s stories as well. Like those Croatian tales, they stoked his curiosity regarding his grandparents’ life in their homeland. So it was that the research, phone calls and correspondence began again. A few years ago, we spent a week in Sicily and a day in Mike’s grandparents’ village. Our friend Onofrio arranged for his Sicilian army buddy Gianfranco and his wife Aurora to explore Altofonte with us that day. This enjoyable adventure provided Mike with far more information. It also added many more questions to his need-to-know list.

Today, Mike and I are in Sicily. This time, two locals are exploring Altofonte with us. While researching via the internet, Mike came across a high school student’s video which featured her hometown. When Mike commented that his grandparents were born there, Pietro joined in the conversation. He shared that he lives in Altofonte and might be able to find additional information for Mike. Since that first online meeting, Pietro was elected councilman in Altofonte and he and Mike have communicated regularly regarding local news as well as Mike’s family history. In the mean time, Mike discovered the Sicilian Genealogy page on Facebook. Someone used the page to request on site help in discovering her family roots. When law student Francesco came highly recommended, Mike decided to contact him. In the midst of his studies, Francesco engages in genealogy searches as a hobby. At this writing, Mike and I are anxious to meet these two in person. Mike is anxious to meet his grandparents’ history in person as well.

Since I packed my bags to join him in this undertaking, I think it’s obvious that I support Mike’s efforts in this regard. I spent my childhood listening to my family stories, too, and I certainly appreciate their value. The difference, I think, is that I’ve never felt the need to know more. I loved my parents who made me who I am today. My grandparents, aunts and uncles were the frosting on the cake who enhanced my parents’ influence. Of course, my own siblings and my sixty-plus cousins added to the mix as well. I’ve never wondered where I came from or who I am because I felt that I knew. The truth is that, until this writing, I continued to feel this way. It is the question Jesus posed in Mark’s gospel ( 8:27-35) which urges me to acknowledge that I have more to learn after all…

Mark tells us that, as they walked between villages, Jesus asked his disciples, “Who do people say that I am?” I’m fairly certain that Jesus knew how he would answer this question. Our Loving Creator meant everything to Jesus and he had made his people’s history his own. Jesus knew from whence he’d come and he lived accordingly. Perhaps Jesus posed the question to help his disciples to discover who they were and where they were on this life’s journey. They’d enjoyed friendships with Jesus and they’d witnessed his preaching, his miracles and his compassion. Still, they also shook their heads at some of what Jesus said and did. When Jesus posed his question, most of them didn’t have the courage to express what they felt. They merely quoted what they’d heard from others. Only Peter stepped up to say, “You are the Christ.” When he identified Jesus, Peter identified himself. Peter was willing to follow wherever Jesus lead him because in knowing Jesus he came to know himself. Though Peter balked when Jesus spoke of his suffering, Peter remained. Though Peter denied Jesus during his passion, he embraced their friendship at the foot of the cross. By the time Peter joined Jesus in eternity, Peter knew exactly who he was.

Discovering his extended family has enriched Mike’s sense of self beyond expectations. I think Mike will agree that his relationship with God defines him even more so. As for me, I have much to learn from my relationship with God and my own history as well. One day, I’ll really know who God is and I’ll really know me.

©2018 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

N… Names, Our Loving Labels

At daybreak, he called his disciples and selected twelve of them to be his apostles: Simon, to whom he gave the name Peter…
Luke 6:13

N is for Name. My full given name is Mary Ellen. Though I’ve gone by Mary since I began high school, my family continues to use this designation for me. The single exception over the years was offered by Auntie Bertha. Bertha is actually my mother’s cousin, but her standing in the family compelled us to lovingly assign her the title of “auntie”. Bertha was an extremely loving and fun-loving woman. In an effort to express her love for me, Auntie Bertha consistently called me “Margaret Mary”. When I asked the reason for this misnomer, Auntie Bertha told me, “Margaret Mary is my favorite name and it’s perfect for you!” The implication regarding my standing in her heart was not lost on me.

I believe that God fully understands the value of our names as well. God renamed Abram when God sent him off. This Abraham would father the Jewish people. Jesus gave Simon a new name. Simon Peter became the rock upon whom Jesus built his church. Later, when Saul vengefully persecuted Jesus’ followers, Jesus stepped in and renamed him. Paul became one of Christianity’s greatest teachers.

God uses your name and mine with the same expectation God felt regarding our biblical counterparts. In every opportunity which comes our way, God calls our names with great love and with great hope in our responses.

Speak, Dearest God, for we listen as you call our names.

©2017 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved