We Walk In Good Company

Give Thanks to God for God is good.
From Psalm 136:1

Before I set out to walk this morning, I decided that I would empty my mind of the day’s concerns and open myself up to God’s presence. If you’ve read these posts the past few days, I think you’ll agree that this was a well-timed decision on my part. Still, I have to admit that I wasn’t a block away from home when I realized that my mind was as cluttered as ever with worries of every sort. While most of these things matter greatly, in the grand scheme of things, there isn’t much I can do to deal with them.

As I walked on, I tried to think of anything but my laundry list of complaints regarding life on this June 2020 day. Tried as I might to shake it, my angst relentlessly dug in and clung to me. “Ugh!” I said aloud. “Why can’t I get rid of the negativity?” Though I expected no answer, an uncommonly cool breeze responded immediately. Without a thought, I said aloud, “O God, I love the wind! It reminds me that you’re with me.” As I continued to walk, those worries remained. The difference was that they’d lost their ability to overwhelm me. Somehow, I knew that all will be well in the end.

As I made my way through the neighborhood and then back home, that breeze continued to press against my back and God continued to remind me that I am never alone. None of us is ever alone!

Good and gracious God, thank you for walking with me. Thank you for walking with every one of us.

©2020 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Pray Well!

“This is how you are to pray.”
Matthew 6:9

I haven’t walked for the past few days because my husband and I have been tending to our yard. This was an attempt to prepare our home for what we hope will evolve into a typical summer. I cleaned the outdoor furniture and swept the screened porch while Mike planted flowers everywhere. In spite of the lovely results of our labor, we admitted that it is quite likley that we will be the only ones who’ll enjoy them firsthand. So it was that, today, I walked. In spite of the rain, I walked. Though this might seem to have been an effort to get some exercise, it was actually my effort to get God’s full attention. I left home with a laundry list of requests regarding the world-full of troubles that continue amidst the COVID-19 pandemic. This walk would provide the time necessary to dictate this list to my ever-patient God.

Yes, this reflection is being written by the very same person who has assured you that she is filled with God’s peace and that God knows all of our troubles better than we do. Fortunately, as soon as I made it to the end of my block, an insistent breeze returned me to my senses. It pushed me along just briskly enough to remind me of this truth. With that, I uttered that truth in a single sentence and then continued my walk in silence. “You know what’s wrong, Dear God, and I know you’ll be with us as we deal with it. Thank you.”

Loving God, teach me always to pray selflessly and with absolute faith in your love for me and for all of us.

©2020 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

One People, One Family

Blessed too are the sorrowing;
they shall be consoled.

Matthew 5:4

When my husband and I left for Israel, I carried some baggage in addition to that mid-sized suitcase in which I’d managed to pack everything I needed for the trip. As I typed “everything I needed”, I realized that the other baggage which weighed me down wasn’t necessary after all.

I shared earlier that this trip included much more than visits to Israel’s numerous holy places. For me, every encounter with Israel’s people and my increasing understanding of their present-day life and struggles added to the holiness of Jesus’ long ago home. In every direction I looked, I found remnants of the lives of Jesus and his contemporaries. Israel had changed beyond recognition in some ways, yet it remained the same in many others. Perhaps this was the case for me as well. With every passing moment, I remained while a bit more of that unnecessary baggage disappeared.

This freed me to respond to our guide Yossi’s ongoing requests for prayers. “Pray for peace among us,” Yossi repeated. At the same time, Yossi did his part to build relationships among his countrymen. He brought us to a Palestinian restaurant, an Arab gift shop and cafe, an Arab glass factory, the home of a Messianic Jewish couple and Shabbat dinner with an Orthodox Jewish family. Yossi’s exchanges with those who hosted us made it obvious that Yossi had nurtured relationships with each one. Afterward, Yossi observed that regardless of the troubles which beset each group, “They are just like us. All they want is the chance to work hard and to bring home food for their families.” In his own way, Yossi consoled the sorrowing with the gifts of his support, his friendship and our prayers.

Loving God, help us to bring you to those who need you most just as Yossi does.

©2020 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Z… Zenith

Great is God and wholly
to be praised in the city.
God’s holy mountain, fairest of heights,
is the joy of all the earth.

Psalm 48:2-3ab

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 are 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” does not imply in any way that God is unwilling to dirty those Divine Hands with the troubles of this world. Oddly, 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 who loves us from the fairest of heights also loves us from the deepest of trenches. No wonder God is the joy of all the earth!

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, God intervened often. The good people around me, the wonders of creation and the scriptures never ceased to inspire. Indeed, God is the joy of all the earth and the source of joy for me!

Loving God, thank you for lighting the way as we journey through this life and home to you. Your presence throughout this ABC side-trip has been most tangible. It is also most appreciated. Thank you for using me to spread your love. Use us all to light the way to your holy mountain.

©2020 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

V… Vision

And the Spirit lifted me up and
brought me in a vision to the Spirit of God…

From Ezekiel 11:24 Ezekiel 11:24-25

V is for Vision. This reference has nothing to do with my ability to see the world around me. The vision to which I refer is that internal sense of direction which guides each of us when all else fails. Though I’ve weathered some difficult events and losses in my own life, these things pale in the shadow of the suffering which others endure. I cannot help being amazed as those around me cope with their circumstances. Though situation after situation promises only the most dire outcome, these suffering souls proceed and endure with hope and grace.

As I consider my own life, I know that each incidence of survival was transformed into triumph by God who remained deep within me. Though I could see no end to the suffering on the surface, I knew better days lay ahead. Somehow, I could see that all would be well in God’s time. Those who have shared their stories with me are absolutely convinced that they completed their journeys through suffering unscathed only because they remained focused upon God all the while.

V is for Vision, our vision of our ever-loving, ever-merciful and ever-caring God who walks with us through everything. Even when that vision is blurred a bit by our tears, God remains at our sides.

Loving God, thank you for remaining with us, even when we fail to open the eyes of our hearts to you. Enhance our vision that we may always see that you are here.

©2020 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

God of The Living!

While running an errand in the near-freezing cold, I realized that I should have worn my winter jacket. My favorite hoodie wasn’t doing the job that morning. As I made my way in and out of the cold, I promised myself that I’d reorganize our coat closet as soon as possible. Our winter outerwear needed to be moved center stage and our lighter jackets needed to be cleaned and stored for next year. Amazingly enough, I kept my promise to myself that very day. I not only tackled the coat closet, but our clothes closet as well. For me, the coats were easy to deal with. I’d purged my winter wear last year. It was my everyday casual clothing that posed a dilemma. I’m a creature of habit when it comes to my wardrobe. Every season, I settle into my favorite and most comfortable clothing and I ignore the rest. I’ve finally learned that if I haven’t worn something for a year, well, maybe two or three years, I need to give it away. After some serious haggling with myself, I let go of those neglected garments and added them to my giveaway pile.

My poor husband had the misfortune of returning home while I was in the midst of my closet purge. I immediately invited him to look at a few things which he hasn’t worn in a while. Mike reluctantly eyed the shirts, sweaters and slacks which he’s held onto for a little too long. Though all of them are in good condition, he’d replaced them with more stylish options over the past few years. Still, when I urged the dear man to give a particular shirt or sweater away, he insisted that it would be back in style again. When I reminded the good deacon that I’d be donating our treasures to someone who needed them far more than we, he agreed to part with them all. Mike’s only hold-out is the plaid wool jacket he purchased while a student at Western Illinois University during his first winter there. Though he claims that parting with the jacket would be like throwing away his college photo album, I believe that Mike secretly hopes to return to the joys of college by wearing that jacket in Macomb one day!

I share Mike’s and my giveaway adventure because our reluctance to part with the comfort of our old familiar clothing is reminiscent of the Sadducees’ reluctance to let go of their old familiar thinking in today’s gospel (Luke 20:27-38). Luke tells us that the Sadducees posed a question which prompted Jesus to address the afterlife. The Sadducees didn’t believe in life after this life, yet they questioned Jesus about it. They reminded Jesus that The Law required a widow with no children to marry her husband’s brother. The intent was to provide the lost husband an heir and the widow the means to be cared for. The Sadducees added that if this brother passed away and the widow remained childless, she was to marry a subsequent brother. The Sadducees went so far as to offer the tale of a poor widow who had wed and lost seven brothers while remaining childless. They ended by asking Jesus which brother would be the widow’s husband at the resurrection of the dead. Though Jesus knew the Sadducees’ malicious intent, he used the opportunity to offer them an important lesson…

Jesus explained that those who pass on to the next life have no need to marry. In eternity, they find greater intimacy with God and with one another than they ever experienced in this life. Before allowing the Sadducees to respond, Jesus cited The Covenant handed down. Their beloved Moses had acknowledged the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob in his encounter with the burning bush. Moses declared that the God of The Covenant is the God of the Living. Jesus pointed out that, if the Sadducees believed in the God of the Living, they must also believe that Abraham, Isaac and Jacob live with God in eternity. Sadly, the Sadducees couldn’t let go of their resolve. Rather than recognizing the hope which Jesus offered them, they walked away with clenched fists, holding tightly to the things that kept them from embracing God’s gift of eternal life.

I’m happy that the good deacon and I were able to empty our closets of the things we no longer need. I’m happy to share that we’ve also let go of a few other things we don’t need. We’ve moved beyond our closet purge to take inventory of our hearts as well. We’ll hold onto the precious experiences along the way which have made us who we are today. After all, four years in Macomb changed Mike’s life forever! At the same time, we’re letting go of things which we no longer need or shouldn’t have had in the first place. Past resentments, habitual worries and tired old sins don’t help any of us. If our less cluttered closets elicit smiles, how many more smiles will our uncluttered hearts will bring? Yes, we’ll have more room for the blessings of this life. We’ll also have more room for the God of the Living –the God who dwells within us now and who awaits us all in the world to come.

©2019 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved