G… God

For this is our God,
and we are the people God shepherds,
the flock whom God guides.

Psalm 95:7

G is for God… and goodness, grace, generosity, gentleness, gift, gladness, glory, gospel, grandeur, gratitude, growth, gumption and a gaggle of other descriptors which apply to the God I have come to know and love.

Regardless of the name you prefer or the context in which you pray, God is all of these things and more for you, for me and for every soul blessed with the gift of life. Whether we were raised down the street from our church as I was or were never exposed to anything remotely similar, God is here for us.

For me, the evidence lies deep within. I’ve been aware of God’s presence in my life for as long as I can remember. If you are searching for more concrete evidence, consider this. Numerous books have been published and countless other references have been cited in the distant and recent past regarding encounters with life after this life. Many have passed through death’s threshold and returned to share their experiences. Whether a believer, an agnostic or an atheist beforehand, these travelers to the Other Side speak of the unconditional love, peace and acceptance which greeted them. Most conclude with great certainty that they have met God.

Though most of us will never return from this journey, we are gifted with God’s loving presence in our lives today. For me, the implications are twofold. First, I must cultivate my relationship with God as this is the source of the greatest joy I know this life. Second, I must share the benefits of this relationship by cultivating my relationships with those God has given me to love. After all, the best gifts are those which we share.

Generous and Gracious God, thank you for you.

©2020 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

God’s Call to Love

Thus says the Lord God: I, too, will take from the crest of the cedar,
from its topmost branches tear off a tender shoot,
and plant it on a high and lofty mountain;
on the mountain heights of Israel I will plant it.
It shall put forth branches and bear fruit, and become a majestic cedar.

Ezekiel 17:22-24

After finalizing Father’s Day plans with our sons and daughters-in-law, I got offline with the hope of tending to some writing. Before opening my file, I glanced toward the window for a peek at summer’s greenery. Nature always inspires me and I expected this glimpse to be no exception. Much to my surprise, my gaze never made it to the huge blue spruce that rests just beyond the glass. A photo on the file cabinet in front of the window caught my attention first. There were our sons with their wives and our grandchildren. Mike and I couldn’t have smiled more broadly as we posed that day. When we’re surrounded by our family, we’re in the happiest of places. It occurred to me that Mike’s and my smiles in that photo might actually have competed with our grins the day we received the news that we were expecting our first baby. Though neither Mike nor I knew much about parenting at the time, we did know that this news was the start of the most important and exciting time of our lives. Over the years, we’ve used many other mostly positive adjectives to describe our stints as Dad and Mom. In the end, we wouldn’t trade these roles for anything. How grateful we are for this family of ours!

When I turned back to my keyboard to open that file, a photo on the bookcase next to me also caught my eye. There I saw the first family which gave me an appetite for the joy I’ve found in my own. This photo was taken when I was six years old. My siblings were fourteen, twelve, four, three and fifteen months. We’d posed in front of our house on Easter Sunday just two years before my dad passed away. I reminded myself of how fortunate I am to have memories of my dad. My youngest sister knows him only from pictures. The next youngest was only five years old when our dad passed away. Though her memories included only a few fleeting images of him, my sister observed more than once that our dad loved her very much. She assured us that this had to be the case because she’d felt the absence of that love ever since. My best “Daddy memory” is bath time. The four youngest of us played together in the tub for as long as our parents could tolerate it or until the water cooled a bit too much. Then, our mom quickly washed and rinsed each of us, usually in the order of our ages. One at a time, we ran across the bathroom floor from our mom to our dad, giggling all the while. Daddy dried us off and dressed us in our pajamas. The goal of all of this was to get us into bed before my dad left for his night shift at the railroad yard. I wondered when we realized that this scene would be repeated only a few more times…

My brother, my sisters and I each responded to the loss of our dad differently. Still, the pain of his absence remains a constant in our lives. This good man, husband and father impacted his family as no one else could have. When we’re touched with great happiness, we miss sharing the good news with him. When we find ourselves in turmoil, we long for the embrace of his caring arms. Sometimes, we simply want to share the mundane details of a boring day with him. Our dad is a very funny guy who would likely turn our monotonous moaning into an amusing anecdote, if only he could. Like my younger sister, I know that our dad loved each of us as best he could. Perhaps the greatest impact of his love for me is manifested in my relationships with my sons. Mike’s dad certainly did the same for him. From the time we knew they were on the way, we loved our sons. When each of them was born, Mike and I felt as though we’d known them forever. We spent every available minute with them. Though this sometimes required very efficient tweaking of our work schedules and adjusting or ignoring our social calendars, we gladly spent our time with our boys. After all, Mike is the only dad our sons will have and I am their only mom.

I cited the quote above from Ezekiel because God’s intent is precise in this message. God created something amazing in each one of us. Just as God took that tender shoot from a cedar tree and planted it in a place where it would flourish, God has planted you and me precisely where we are meant to be. Just as God provided the sun, rain and soil needed to nourish that tree, God does the same for you and me. All the while, God hopes that we will do the same for one another. If you question the value of your life, take it from this daughter that the eight years I shared with my dad meant everything to me. Every day that you have with those you have been given to love is equally valuable. With that, I wish the dads among us a very Happy Father’s Day! I wish the rest of us the grace we need to follow their leads and God’s by nurturing those we’ve been given to love as only we can.

©2018 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Who Do You Say That I am?

Who do you say that I am? Luke’s gospel (9:18-24) tells us that when Jesus posed this question, Peter responded immediately. Matthew’s and Mark’s accounts indicate the same which confirms what we already know: Peter typically replied to Jesus’ queries without hesitation. Sometimes, this promptness served him well. Sometimes, a bit of forethought might have saved Peter a good deal of heartache. I’m afraid that over the years I’ve shared Peter’s propensity to respond quickly with similar results. At times, hurriedly speaking up remedied tough situations. At other times, I made things worse by opening my mouth before my good sense filtered out words which should have remained unspoken. My timing continues to be flawed in many ways. Still, moments spent considering Jesus’ question are perfectly timed. Here is my answer, Lord…

Who do you say that I am? My earliest memories include strolls down the block to church. Sundays always included Mass and dinner in the dining room. Since stores and other businesses were closed, Sunday provided the perfect opportunity to rest and regroup as a family. During the hectic days in between, we acknowledged God in the midst of and in spite of our family circus. Joyful milestones prompted prayers of thanksgiving, while sorrowful events elicited earnest prayer for God’s care. As a child, the most important constant in my life beside my parents was God’s presence. You are the One who is always with us.

Who do you say that I am? As I grew, I learned a good deal about love. I found that more than anything else we all want to be loved. Even when we behave as though we don’t need others, we need someone to love and someone to love us. My parents and our extended family loved me each in his or her own way as best they could. My brother and sisters loved me, too. Still, there were days when I felt that I was not at all lovable and that I was not at all loved. I ended those days with an aching heart. It was on such nights that I turned my seemingly un-lovable self to God. You are the One who always listens.

Who do you say that I am? I clearly recall being angry with God at age sixteen. I knew deep down that I was drawn to the convent. I loved my aunts, Sister Gerard, Sister Ida Marie and Sister Marie Raoul, and I loved many of the sisters whom I’d met along the way. I had little patience with trivial pursuits. I cared about the poor and the outcasts who struggled to survive on the fringe of teenage life. I felt deep compassion for my mom who worked much harder than she should have had to work. I avoided getting into trouble because I couldn’t bear to give her anything more to worry about. I was angry because, just once, I wanted to be a “normal” person who didn’t worry quite so much about everyone and everything. I didn’t realize that there were lots of “normal” people around me whose concern caused them to worry just as much as I did. Angry as I was with God for making me who I am, God never stopped peeking around corners, showing up on a sunny day and smiling through the face of a friend who understood. You are the one who remains faithful to us.

Who do you say that I am? As it happened, opportunity knocked and I finally realized that God had gifted me with free will. I decided to spend a summer during college living with two nuns. We taught English to Spanish-speaking children to prepare them for the coming school year. Sister Liz and Sister Rose taught me to enjoy life a bit more and to worry a bit less. They also encouraged me to accept a date with the handsome young teacher who was hanging out at the rectory. The following year, I completed college, secured a teaching job for the fall and married that teacher during the summer in between. You are the God of Surprises.

Who do you say that I am? Today, I find God in our sons, our daughters-in-law and our grandchildren. As we celebrate Father’s Day, my husband and I enjoy a glimpse of love-fulfilled in the remarkable people whom we are blessed to call our family. Regardless of the challenges along the way, our love for this family and their love for us carries us through. If that isn’t enough, we are blessed with many friends who do the same. In all of this, I see that God has been with me during my happiest, loneliest, most frightening and challenging moments. As I smile and cry, dance and sing, fret and rejoice along the way, God is with me. When you smile and cry, dance and sing, fret and rejoice along the way, God is with you as well. Who do you say that I am? You are the God of Unconditional and Unending Love.

©2016 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Who do you say that I am?

Who do you say that I am? Luke (9:18-24) tells us that when Jesus posed this question, Peter responded quickly. Peter typically replied to Jesus’ queries without hesitation. Sometimes, Peter’s promptness served him well. At other times, some forethought would have saved Peter a good deal of heartache. I am afraid that over the years I have shared Peter’s propensity to respond quickly with similar results. At times, hurriedly speaking up remedied tough situations. At other times, I have made things worse by opening my mouth before my good sense filtered out words which needed to remain unspoken. The good news is that I have spent a lifetime considering the question Jesus poses today. Here is my answer, Lord…

Who do You say that I am? When I was five years old, my family and I walked to church to attend my little sister’s baptism. We celebrated afterward with a family party. Our faith was extremely important to my parents and to our extended family. We marked joyful and sorrowful milestones, as well as the time in between, with acknowledgements of God’s Presence. You, my God, are the One who is always with us.

Who do you say that I am? As I grew, I learned a good deal about love. I found that, more than anything else, we all want to be loved, even when we act as though we do not need others. My parents and our extended family loved me, each in his or her own way, as best they could. Still, there were days when I felt that I was not at all loveable and that I was not at all loved. I ended those days with an aching heart. As I soaked my pillow with tears, I turned to God. You, my God, are the One who always listens.

Who do you say that I am? I clearly recall being angry with God at age sixteen. I knew deep down that I was drawn to the convent. I loved my aunts, Sister Gerard, Sister Ida Marie and Sister Marie Raoul, and I loved many of the sisters I had met along the way. I had little patience with trivial pursuits. I cared about the poor and the outcasts who tried to survive on the fringes of teenage life. I felt deep compassion for my mom who worked much harder than she should have had to work. I avoided trouble because I could not bear to give her anything more to worry about. I was angry because, just once, I wanted to be a “normal” person who did not worry quite so much about everyone and everything. I did not realize that there were lots of “normal’ people around me who shared my woes. Angry as I was toward God for making me who I am, God never stopped peeking around corners, showing up on a sunny day or smiling through the face of a friend who understood. You, my God, are the one who remains faithful to us.

Who do you say that I am? As it happened, God had other plans for me. I spent a summer during college living with two nuns. We taught English to Spanish-speaking children to prepare them for school. Sister Liz and Sister Rose taught me to enjoy life a bit more and to worry a bit less. They also encouraged me to accept a date with the young teacher who was hanging out at the rectory. The following year, I completed college, secured a teaching job for the fall, and married that teacher during the summer in between. I second-guessed myself often regarding my ability to teach and to be a wife. I persisted only because God gifted me with unexpected insight along the way. You, my God, are the God of Surprises.

Who do you say that I am? This past weekend, I found God in our sons, our daughters-in-law and our granddaughters. As we celebrated Father’s Day, my husband and I enjoyed a glimpse of love fulfilled in the remarkable people whom we are blessed to call our family. Regardless of the circumstances which challenge us along the way, our love for this family and their love for us carries us through. As we enjoyed our dinner together, I saw that God, too, has been with me during my happiest, loneliest, most frightening and challenging moments. As I smile and cry, dance and sing, fret and rejoice along the way, God is with me. When I crawl into bed each night, God wraps me in a blanket of love whether I need it or not. Who do you say that I am? You, my God, are the God of Unconditional and Unending Love.

©2013 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved