God Is Here

In the beginning was the Word;
the Word was in God’s presence
and the Word was God.

John 1:1

The teacher in me taught me to make the most of our winter breaks. When I taught second and third graders, their unrest before Christmas vacation betrayed their anticipation regarding what Santa might place under their trees on Christmas Day. I engaged in some extremely creative teaching to keep my students’ attention until I finally dismissed them for their two-week hiatus. Because my husband was a school principal, his office needed a revolving door during those final days as a few students needed more than their teachers’ creativity to contain them. When we had children of our own, we did our best to send them off to school with plenty of “encouragement” to behave until the final bell rang and vacation began.

This time away from school was truly a gift to all concerned. Though having the kids at home while trying to prepare for Christmas was a challenge, their involvement added to all of our appreciation of the season. When Christmas Day arrived, we had much to celebrate together.

Tomorrow is New Year’s Eve and another variety of anticipation and a bit of uncertainty sets in. Like the children who wondered what gifts Christmas would bring, I wonder what the New Year has in store. The truth is that God only knows. So it is that tomorrow I will settle in to enjoy the Eve of the New Year with those I’ve been given to love. I will trust that, whatever 2018 brings, God will be with us through it all.

Loving God, thank you for your loving care today, throughout the coming year and always.

©2017 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

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Graced Once Again!

The child grew in size and strength,
filled with wisdom,
and the grace of God was upon him.

Luke 2:40

The New Year is just forty-eight hours away and my thoughts turn to my hopes and dreams, worries and fears for 2018. I once considered myself to be blessed with an inner calm which I could never explain. Those of you who follow my reflections every day know that this hasn’t been the case during the last several months of 2017. I allowed myself to fret with the best of them, especially in the face of this world’s violence both near and far away. During that time, I found myself extremely frustrated by my inability to remedy these things.

Oddly enough, the passing of a young man I taught more than forty years ago helped me to recapture some of that fleeting inner peace. I found the gathering of people who mourned Robert to be life-giving. The comforting and challenging words of his pastor led me back to the familiar path I thought I might never find again. Finally, I began to feel like the child of whom Luke wrote so long ago. Finally, I’ve turned my attention to the goodness around me.

Though I’ve grown neither as wise nor as strong as Jesus did, the grace of God is upon me. This grace assures me in the midst of the worst of my fretting that my loved ones, this world and I will be fine in the end. Yes, God’s grace is upon us all.

Good and Gracious God, thank you for your presence and your enduring love which renew my hope and lift my heart.

©2017 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Peace-filled Hugs and Smiles

“I will leave as a remnant in your midst
a people humble and lowly,
Who shall take refuge in the name of the Lord.”

Zephaniah 3:13

She’s done it again! Actually, Carol and her husband have done this numerous times much to my good fortune! A few years ago, I mentioned Carol in my daily reflection because she had really made all of the difference in the world to me on a really tough day. It was Advent and I was attempting to encourage all of us to bring a bit of peace to one another as we made our way to Christmas. (I know. This is a familiar theme which I’m revisiting this Advent.) Apparently, the annual frenzy which threatens all of our spirits compels me to repeat this urging. It seems that I need it more than most!

If you’re a frequent reader, you know that I’ve been impatient and on edge. I’m having great difficulty accepting the fact that I cannot repair this world to my satisfaction. Luckily, Carol has once again noticed my occasional grimaces and she has countered them with the best of hugs. Carol’s husband has learned much from her thoughtful ways. In Carol’s absence, Ed makes a point of happening by to elicit a smile from me. If their hugs or smiles seem not to lighten my mood, Carol and Ed ask what’s up and then listen with great patience. Every time, I walk away with a lighter burden because they’ve allowed me to share it with them.

Thank you, Carol and Ed, for this generous taste of peace on earth!

Loving God, as we prepare for Christmas together, help us to bring your peace to everyone we meet along the way.

©2017 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Our Ever-Attentive God of Hope

We begin December with an ever-increasing list of demands. I find myself tackling the tasks at hand from the time I awake each morning to the time I retire each night. Though I thought I’d begun to prepare for Christmas earlier than usual, I suddenly find myself behind schedule. I was extremely excited to have completed this week’s reflections early only to realize that writing for the rest of December will be a challenge. Still, in spite of all that there is to do, I’ve decided not to allow this pre-Christmas frenzy to get the best of me. Rather, I’m going to take a deep breath and to approach all that lies ahead one step at a time. Will you join me in slowing down just long enough to attend very closely to all that we encounter this First Sunday of Advent?

As I enter church, our Advent Wreath catches my eye. Purple and pink bows mark the candles which call our attention to the four weeks ahead. The green accents which marked the hope of Ordinary Time have given way to purple. With that hope intact, we watch as Advent’s violet hues beckon us to embrace the passionate sentiments of the weeks to come. Through the scripture readings, we will retrace the steps of the Israelites who cried out to God in their misery and who received God’s comfort in response over and over again. Our hymns call us to wake up and to prepare. We search our hearts and adjust our priorities to make room for God to dwell among us and within us. Today, even our most familiar prayers demand our attention. Advent 2017 challenges us to invite God into every aspect of our lives. Finally, I realize that I’m actually most grateful for December’s arrival. Advent has given me reason to slow down, at least while I’m in church, and to remember that I’m not alone in enduring the trials and tribulations of this life. For as long as God’s children have walked the earth, life among us has been difficult at best.

The pain we experience when our circumstances run amok is as ancient as the scriptures. The prophet we call “Third Isaiah” speaks from his own intense suffering (Isaiah 63:16-17; 64:2-7). In spite of the effort he puts into his relationship with God, Isaiah fills up with anger and doubt. He fumes over the Israelites’ continued unfaithfulness to God. He simply cannot stand by and watch their evildoing any longer. Isaiah fumes even more vigorously at the Lord God who seems content to step back and observe as the people engage in their iniquity. Isaiah glares heavenward and asks, “Why do you let us wander, O Lord, from your ways, and harden our hearts so that we fear you not?” In the face of the many personal and societal ills which besiege us all these days, you and I may be inclined to pose the same question to our ever-patient God. I admit to turning my eyes heavenward far too often to ask, “If you don’t want things to be this way, why don’t you fix them?” Fortunately, Isaiah moves past his anger and uncertainty toward God. In the depths of his heart, Isaiah realizes that God has been listening all the while. He and the rest of God’s people have never been alone in their misery. Finally, Isaiah prays, “O Lord, you are our father; we are the clay and you are the potter: we are the work of your hands.” Finally, Isaiah understands that, because we are the most beloved work of God’s hands, God remains with us in everything. Truly, God will be with us all regardless of what lies ahead.

This First Sunday of Advent, we gather around God’s family table where we’re reminded that we’re in the best of company as we make our way to Christmas. Just as God was present in the best and worst of Israel’s history, God is present in the midst of our personal histories as well. Just as God placed Isaiah in the middle of Israel’s troubles to improve things as best he could, God places you and me in the middle of this world’s troubles to do the same.

It occurs to me that your and my Advent To-do Lists are actually Advent Opportunity Lists. Whether we find ourselves on the arm of our elderly parent or of our unyielding child, whether we suffer with an impossible job or an endless job search, whether we are sick in body or sick in spirit, whether we long for peace in this world or peace in our own hearts, each of us struggles to find our way, one moment at a time. It is during the difficult times that we must imitate Isaiah by acknowledging God’s presence. We must remember Isaiah’s prayer to the Potter who created us for these very moments. When we open our eyes and our hearts to God who knows our troubles better than we know them ourselves, we will somehow manage the tasks before us. These moments of grace in which we find God at are sides are what we prepare us for Christmas 2017. These moments of grace are what prepare us for the amazing things to come. Be ready! Just watch for what God has in store!

©2017 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Always Reason To Hope

…the calf and the young lion shall browse together,
with a little child to lead them.

From Isaiah 11:6

My grandson’s smile drew me in before I realized what the little imp had done. My gloomy attitude, aching sinuses and complete disappointment with so many things in this world meant nothing to the little boy who nuzzled next to me. As Danny eyed my uncommonly troubled eyes, he looked to see if I was watching. Then, ever so carefully, he touched the tips of my fingers. I smiled as I considered his bravery in approaching me. With that, my headache eased and I invited Danny to sit closer. He immediately nestled nearer.

In an effort not to disturb our comfortable cuddle, I stretched for my phone. Danny looked up and asked, “Pictures?” I couldn’t help smiling at the obvious. “Yes, pictures,” I replied. With that, we revisited recent history in Danny’s life. My photos and short videos include trips to the park and family parties. They also chronicle Danny at play. As Danny chattered on about his own antics and those of his cousins and the rest of us, I listened attentively. It occurred to me that I had wasted too much of this day attending to my headache and my worry. Danny made it obvious that the world is in good hands. Come to think of it, another little child made the same observation two millenniums ago when he was born in that stable in Bethlehem. Yes, there is always hope!

Dear God, keep me mindful of the gifts to be found in the people you have given me to love, especially in the children who keep our hope alive.

©2017 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Choose That Umbrella With Care

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

Psalm 34:7

It’s raining again. I’ve decided to head out in spite of the downpour. I’ve donned my hooded jacket and embarked upon my familiar trek through the neighborhood. As I walk, I enjoy the blurry perspective which persistent drops force upon me. As I walk farther, it occurs to me that the emotional rains which fall too often in our lives are not enjoyable at all.

A friend is enduring some tough times. Though the storm brewing overhead is partially a personal choice, those who care are doing their best to provide the right umbrella to keep him 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 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 our lives far too often. When it does, we simply do our best by determining which umbrella will keep our loved one dry.

Compassionate God, keep my friend and all concerned in your care. Give them the peace to endure, knowing that you are with them every step of the way.

©2017 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved