On A Mission To Heal

Have you ever found yourself in the midst of a perfect storm? I’m not certain of how this evolves meteorologically. However, I can tell you that life’s circumstances sometimes collide just creatively enough to turn everything in their path topsy-turvy. Though it’s been some months since I experienced this phenomenon, I assure you that I’m annoyingly aware of the details of this encounter. At the time, I felt that I’d been wounded irreparably both spiritually and mentally. These circumstances took a physical toll as well as I actually lost my appetite! Though storms had threatened my peace of mind numerous times in the past, this was the first time they paralyzed me. I floated in limbo and functioned on autopilot. I didn’t hear people talking to me and I misplaced things I never lose. I forgot an important appointment and I almost ran out of gas. I held so tightly to my misery that I had no energy left to reach our for the healing opportunities which lingered around me.

Before you start to pray on my behalf (Though your prayers are always welcome!), please know that my perfect storm wasn’t strong enough to cause significant damage. It also failed to wash away the Persistent Presence which remained deep within me. Every time I let go of my misery to take a deep breath, that Presence whispered a thought or offered a nudge just strong enough to get my attention. Eventually, I heeded these overtures and took the hint to look beyond my pain. I turned to my favorite prayer (The Prayer of St. Francis, to be precise) for consolation. After repeating it for several days, I changed the first line from, “Lord, make me an instrument of your peace” to “Lord, I am an instrument of your peace.” I went on to assure God and myself that: Where there is hatred, I will sow love; where there is injury, I will pardon; when in doubt, I will have faith.” You get the idea. After making the most of my new prayer, I moved on to a musical favorite. Matt Wessel’s arrangement of Be With Me* never fails to inspire. For several days, I sang the lyrics as Matt wrote them: Be with me when I am in trouble. Be with me when I am afraid. Be with me when I am alone. Be with me Lord, I pray. Apparently, my persistence was well-placed because I eventually felt creative and energetic enough to take liberties with Matt’s lyrics as well. I sang my revised version often and loudly: You’re with me when I am in trouble. You’re with me when I am afraid. You’re with me when I am alone. You’re with me, Lord. You always stay! Finally, I embraced God’s loving presence within me and the healing which had patiently lingered around me took root.

I share all of this on the First Sunday of Lent because perfect storms threaten too often throughout each of our lives. For me, Lent 2019 provides an opportunity to reassess, regroup and refocus my efforts. This year in particular, I’m on a mission to dispel the storms around me and to bring healing to those effected as best I can. Each one of us is invited to do the same. God’s enduring presence within us will nudge us along and ignite that store of energy which we may have forgotten is there. With renewed spirits, we can look outside of ourselves to those who need healing most. We can turn to whatever resource we find inspiring to fuel us along the way. As for me, Jesus’ life among us does the trick. Before Jesus began his public ministry, he retreated to the desert for forty days. When he emerged from that time of intimacy with God, Jesus was ready to embrace whatever lay ahead. During the three years which followed, Jesus revealed God’s love and God’s concern though his healing efforts at every opportunity. Jesus invited all who would hear him, just as he invites you and me, to do the same. Don’t underestimate your healing abilities in this regard. My poor husband was certainty discouraged as he tried to help me to navigate that perfect storm a few months ago. Still, he hung in there all the while. When Mike let go of his uncertainty, he freed his arms to embrace me when I needed him most.

As Lent 2019 begins, my perfect storm has subsided and healing has taken root. Sadly, at the same time, loved ones near and far continue to cry out for God’s healing touch. Lonely hearts flirt with despair, while families endure economic uncertainty and unrest at their dinner tables. Addiction and intolerance overwhelm, while our political system succumbs to a desire for power rather than to its civic responsibilities. We who are God’s family continue to suffer the effects of abuse and cover-ups by a church hierarchy which was charged with healing this world as Jesus did. This is the reason it is so important that you and I bring healing wherever we find ourselves. The smallest effort in seemingly insignificant circumstances will make an important difference to someone. As I wrote above, don’t underestimate your healing abilities in this regard. You do make a difference to those around you as only you can. Just ask Mike! Don’t underestimate God’s healing abilities either. Whatever storms are brewing within you and around you, God remains to dispel the clouds, to still the waters and to comfort you. Trust me. When you let go of the pain and embrace God’s presence, healing will come!

*Copyright 2003 MWM; cited with Matt Wessel’s permission

©2019 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

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Z… Zenith

God’s holy mountain, fairest of heights,
is the joy of all the earth.

Psalm 48:3ab

Z is for Zenith. Zenith… the high point, the point directly overhead, the peak, the pinnacle, the summit. As the psalmist wrote, the fairest of heights. When good things happen to us we say that our spirits are high or that we’re uplifted. Though I don’t think there is actually a direction toward heaven, I turn my eyes upward to pray. I reference my loved ones “up there” and I visualize God and the heavenly cohort looking down from above upon me.

God’s “above-ness” doesn’t imply in any way that God is unwilling to dirty those Divine Hands with our troubles. God’s assigned position “above” never stops me from pulling God down into the worst of messes. More importantly, this position “above” never stops God from responding. No, our God loves us from the fairest of heights and from the deepest of trenches.

Today, I thank you for making your way through this alphabet of reflections with me. Though I fretted a bit about actually taking us from A to Z, the inspiration came. The good people around me, the wonders of creation and the scriptures never ceased to inspire. The same is true of God: The joy of all the earth and the source of joy for me!

Loving God, your presence throughout this ABC side-trip has been most tangible. Thank you for using me to spread your love. Use us all to light the way to your holy mountain.

©2017 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Blessed Are We!

When things get to the point where I can’t deal with them any longer, I walk. The other day, I’d had enough of the misery around me, so I bundled up and headed out into the cold world. I didn’t expect the wintry scenery to make me feel any better. I was looking for something else -actually, someone else- to do the job. I looked beyond the school, the village hall and the homes that line my neighborhood. I peeked past earth-colored bricks, charcoal tree trunks, the white clouds and blue sky to catch a glimpse of what I needed. I squinted and strained to find God. I fully intended to insist that our dear Lord do something about the many suffering people whom I felt incapable of helping in a meaningful way.

Before checking to see if I had God’s attention, I began to list everyone who’d asked me to pray for him or her and everyone who I thought needed Divine Intervention of some sort. As I recited that list, I couldn’t help picturing each one. Before going on to the next name, I had to add how frightened or distraught or alone the person I’d mentioned must be feeling. In the process, my frustration over my inability to fix everything and everyone on my list gave way. Rather than angrily bounding through the cold, I continued on with absolute certainty that God knows about and cares very deeply for each of these suffering souls. When I came home to begin this writing, it occurred to me that I should have read Matthew’s gospel (Matthew 5:1-12a) before my walk…

Matthew tells us that Jesus took the suffering of his contemporaries to heart. When Jesus climbed the mountainside to speak, he saw each face in the crowd before him. Anxious eyes revealed every sort of suffering –poverty of body and spirit; illness and loss; insecurity and loneliness; hunger and thirst; persecution, unrest and injustice. Jesus knew he needed to do much more than to fulfill the material longings of the people. A bit of food, a warmer coat, a better home and an illness overcome were temporary remedies for what ailed the throngs before him. Jesus looked deeply into the tormented hearts who struggled to make sense of their lives. Jesus searched his own heart for the only answer which would make sense of everything.

Jesus looked into that suffering crowd and said, “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted. Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth. Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be satisfied Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy. Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God. Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are you when they insult you and persecute you and utter every kind of evil against you falsely because of me. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward will be great in heaven.”

When we find ourselves in the midst of serious suffering, we can be taken aback by this talk of “blessedness”. We’re tempted to look up that mountainside into Jesus’ eyes and to demand, “What are you thinking, Lord? My pain is unbearable. My wife is leaving me. I drink too much. We can’t have a baby. I’ve lost my job. Our teenager is drifting away. They’ve told me it’s cancer. I can’t stop gambling. I’m so depressed that it’s impossible to get out of bed in the morning. I’m dying. I’m alone. Lord, what are you thinking?” What a shock it is when Jesus looks deep into our eyes and repeats, “Blessed are you!”

I’ve come to realize that no one knows the pain we suffer better than God. No one knows that the things of this world can’t fix or replace what really matters to us better than God. When our lives go awry and our loved ones or we ourselves are at stake, we grapple for a lasting solution. God knows our struggle better than we do. Whether we need to put our hearts at peace, to find strength for the battles ahead, to accept a change that will be with us for the rest of our lives or to work tirelessly for a better change, God is with us. This is what being blessed is all about. Perhaps it’s time to add a few more beatitudes to Jesus’ list: Blessed are we when we face overwhelming obstacles and struggle through them… Blessed are we when we muster the last bit of life within us to embrace what lies ahead… Blessed are we when we realize the imperfections of this life and we plug along anyway. God is with us all the while. So, yes, blessed are we!

©2017 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved