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

Another Reminder… Where To Turn

He took away our infirmities and bore our diseases.
From Matthew 8:17

I know that I addressed this topic yesterday, but another reminder has come my way…

I sat mindlessly tapping my fingers on the table. Troubling circumstances continued to entrench some people I knew with no end in sight. As I considered the situation, I realized that there was little I could do to alleviate any of the issues which plagued these dear people.

Just outside the window, a large robin plopped himself into our bird bath. That Robin was lucky to have found any water at all as the October cold has kept my husband from filling that bird bath for a while now. Regardless, the robin fluttered his wings for several seconds, splashing water every which way. Though I knew he couldn’t hear me, I remarked to my feathered friend, “It certainly doesn’t take much to make you happy!” Even before I finished that sentence, I realized that the same is true for all of us. Just as that water waited, available for my robin friend when he chose to enjoy it, all that we need awaits us.

Being loved and cared for is the best any of us can hope for. Being loved and cared for makes everything we encounter do-able. Though branches and boulders clutter the road ahead, we manage to climb over them or to plod around them because we aren’t alone. God remains with us every step of the way. You know, my friends would more than survive their troubles!

Loving God, thank you for your continued presence and your unmistakable love.

©2019 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Rich In God’s Love

See, you lowly ones, and be glad;
you who seek God, may your hearts revive!
For God hears the poor,
and God spurns not those who are in chains.

Psalm 69:33-35

When the media features items regarding the poor, we assume that the term references those with dire material needs and this is often the case. Still, God’s definition of “the poor” is all-inclusive. Whether our needs are material or spiritual, God attends to us. Sometimes, we seem to be doing well in the world’s eyes only to discover the need deep within us where it matters most. Just as the materially poor climb a slippery slope when it comes to establishing a secure life for themselves and their loved ones, others of us sometimes lose our grip on the things which are truly most important to us.

It seems to me that we are all counted among God’s poor at one time or another. This much-loved group includes us whenever this life robs us of the things we need to carry on. Whether we are lacking money enough for a loaf of bread or energy enough to care for our aging parent, God knows our need and shares our concern. Whether we are besought by the enemy before us or by the demons within us, God stands at our sides. Whether a physical or mental or emotional illness plagues us, God understands our predicament. In spite of our many needs, God always provides love enough for us to get by.

Loving God, you recognize our poverty in all of its forms. Thank you for your generous response.

©2019 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

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

X is for X-Ray

My heart quakes within me;
terror has fallen upon me.

From Psalm 55:5

X is for X-ray. Sometimes, we need x-ray vision to get to the bottom of things.

During a college theology class, a distraught classmate sought guidance from our “God-centered” gathering. Though it was off-topic, the professor allowed his student to elaborate. When my classmate took a breath, the professor referenced John of the Cross’s “dark night of the soul.” The professor felt that this student’s situation was uncomfortably similar to the trauma experienced by the saint. Though this young man didn’t know much about St. John, he appreciated the professor’s willingness to take his dilemma seriously. As the discussion continued, the entire class became involved. We agreed that our classmate was likely immersed in the closest thing to a “dark night of the soul” that any of us had ever seen. We also agreed that our support at the moment was far more important than attending to the course syllabus that day. Recently, when I found myself in my college classmate’s shoes, I was most grateful that those who love me set aside their syllabus in order to take care of me.

You know, there are many suffering souls nearby. The problem is that most of us are unaware because we don’t have the wherewithal to take a closer look. We can’t peek deep within the strangers who wait in line with us at the grocery store or within our own family members for that matter. Because we can’t x-ray one another’s souls, we miss a lot. This is where my professor’s example comes into play. First, we need to make ourselves approachable. Replacing a cranky scowl with a smile goes a long way. Second, we need to set aside our own agendas. Problems don’t arise in accordance with anyone’s syllabus. They just happen. Finally, we need to listen. When we get this far, leave the response to God. God will give us the inspiration we need to help. After all, God sees what lies deep within us all far more clearly than any x-ray will.

Compassionate God, help us to see one other with your x-ray vision and to respond to one another with your love.

©2019 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Stand By When It Rains

When the afflicted man called out, the Lord heard,
and from all his distress he saved him.

Psalm 34:7

I’m writing this reflection for Thanksgiving Eve a bit early as I have much Thanksgiving prepping to do.
On this particular day, it’s raining again. I decided that the time crunch wouldn’t keep me from some much-needed exercise, so I took a walk before sitting at my keyboard. I donned my hooded jacket and embarked upon my familiar trek through the neighborhood. As I walked, I enjoyed the blurry perspective which those persistent drops forced upon me. As I walked further, it occurred to me that the emotional rains which fall too often in our lives are not as enjoyable.

A teen I know and love is enduring some tough times. Though the storm brewing overhead is partially this young ones choice, those who care are doing their best to provide the right umbrella to keep this kid dry. In the mean time, I find myself discouraged. Just as I can’t do a thing about today’s rainy forecast, I feel at a loss in this young person’s case. What can I do to help?

As I consider the lifetime of storms I’ve endured, I must acknowledge that those who loved me through these things proved to be great blessings simply by being there. Perhaps I can be of help by doing the same.

Rain falls in all of our lives far too often. When it does, we do our best sometimes by simply standing by. When the time is right, we’ll know. It’s then that God will help us to determine which umbrella we can offer to keep our loved one dry.

Compassionate God, keep this teen and all concerned in your care. Give them the strength to face today and let them know that you are with them every step of the way.

©2018 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved