God Fuels Our Hope

I surprised myself the other day when I woke an hour later than usual. Before I could tell myself that I must have needed the extra sleep, a slit of light at the window caught my eye. “Thank you for the sunshine,” I whispered. Though the snow that coated everything on Halloween had long since disappeared, clouds and cold temperatures lingered for days afterward. What a thrill is was to open the shades to embrace this new day! Since my dear husband had already headed to the kitchen for coffee, I stayed at the window to admire the crisp and sunny November morning. “Ah,” I told myself, “Maybe Mike and the boys won’t freeze today!” On this beautiful Saturday, our sons planned to whisk their dad away to celebrate his birthday. They’d visit a favorite brewery and then move on to dinner. This remained top secret until Mike arrived at the designated establishment with our out-of-town friend Matt. Only when the two were greeted with a “Happy Birthday!” by our sons did Mike realize he was being surprised. As for me, I was thrilled to be a part of this undercover operation. All the while, I recounted the decades of days I’ve had with this husband of mine. Where has the time has gone, Lord?

Change has been a constant throughout our life together. Mike lived in North Chicago and I lived in real Chicago when we met. A year later, we married and I left the city to move north. The good news was that I secured a job I loved in the North Chicago Schools where Mike also worked. The bad news was that I left my family and friends to do this. A few years into our union, we found a house that was just right. However, that find also required my commitment to become a working mom when a child came along. A few years later, we were thrilled by our older son’s arrival. Four months later, I tearfully dropped off Mikie at our babysitter’s home and then drove on to work. Our second son didn’t come along for quite some time. Fertility issues had delayed his eventual miraculous arrival. This time, I returned to work when Timmy was two and Mikie was ten. Throughout the years that followed, Mikie morphed into Mike and Timmy grew into Tim. Throughout those years, the good deacon was ordained, the 9/11 tragedy occurred and we both lost our moms. Our kids fought off the usual illnesses, my sister was diagnosed with lung cancer and we lost her. Several other precious loved ones succumbed to a variety of illnesses and old age. Our sons graduated college and moved on to good jobs. They married wonderful young women who joined them in giving us five much-loved grandchildren. All the while, the world’s troubles remained and, in some cases, worsened. Our own troubles came and went as well. We didn’t escape our own illnesses, job-related woes and concerns regarding church. Still, I give thanks that life has been oddly joyful and sweet. At the same time, I feel a little out of place in the peacefulness of it all. Are you trying to tell me something, Lord?

When I finally joined Mike in the kitchen that morning, I drifted toward the window to admire the bright blue sky. It would soon hide behind gray clouds. Sadly, I had to acknowledge that the same beautiful sky too often reigns over ominously sad and troubled days for us all. So many weren’t particularly peaceful at that moment. I imagined the sounds of gunfire and explosions across the ocean. I cringed as merciless winds and crackling embers continued their assault on the west coast. A friend who battles leukemia girded himself to fight all that this enemy has in store. Another friend hoped for love with absolute uncertainty regarding how to proceed. The world’s poor hoped for very little as their struggles persisted. A childless couple hoped their child would soon come. I took one last peek at the slowly disappearing blue above. Are you telling me something here, Lord?

I told myself that generations have come and gone under this sky and that more will do the same in the years, decades and centuries ahead. Oddly joyful and oddly sweet days will continue to punctuate human history, just as moments of despair and sadness will leave their marks. As I considered the tough times which touched my own life, I was amazed that I continued to find cause to feel genuinely grateful. Even in my sorrow, I’d been blessed. Trying times will always be a part of our experience on this earth. At the same time, recovery from these things will also always be a part of our lives here. You are telling me something, Lord!

When I sat at my keyboard to begin this writing, sunshine reappeared for a just a few seconds. “Where is that coming from?” I asked as I read the scriptures for this day. The readings from Malachi (3:19-20) and Luke (21:5-19) explain: We must never ever lose heart, especially when we’re tempted by despair. God insists that, regardless of our suffering here, peace and joy are the mainstay of heaven. God insists that these blessings aren’t a matter of hope. They are reality. Every day, God finds ways to fuel our hope until it is fully realized in eternity.

©2019 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Ask For God’s Help, Too

“…But when you pray, go to your inner room,
close the door, and pray to God in secret.”

From Matthew 6:6

A while back, I found myself quite frustrated. Though I usually manage my own troubles reasonably well, I hadn’t done a great job of that. I was also having difficulty with my inability to alleviate the troubles of those I love. I don’t like to see anyone suffering. Even the woes of those who might not list me among their friends give me reason to pity them and to help them as best I can.

So it was that I did what I could for these others and myself. I also wondered all the while why things had to be “this way” or “that way.” When I was in the midst of my best fretting and hand-wringing, it eventually occurred to me that I was relying on the wrong one to solve the problems at hand and to soothe the suffering around me. It was then that I sheepishly retreated to the quiet of my room and turned my eyes upward. There, I turned over all that troubled me to the One who always makes all of the difference in the world. Though God didn’t change any of our circumstances, my ability to work within them improved exponentially when I acknowledged God’s presence at my side.

Compassionate God, thank you for walking this sometimes arduous journey with us.

©2019 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Mary

Out of my distress, I called to God,
and God answered me;
From the midst of the nether world I cried for help,
and you heard my voice.

Jonah 2:3

This is the Feast of Mary, Our Lady of the Rosary. My mom had great devotion to Mary, the mother of Jesus. My mom saw to it that my siblings and I all reference Mary in one way or another through our first and middle names. My mom’s devotion was evident in her prayer as well. Before I went to kindergarten, I joined my family in the living room often to pray an evening Rosary for our very sick grandfather. We repeated this exercise again and again when our uncle and then our own dad became ill.

My mom seemed convinced that, of all of heaven’s inhabitants, Mary best understood her heartbreak over each of these crises. My mom also understood that prayer can be difficult when ones heart is overwhelmed with grief. So it was that she engaged us all in repeating the consoling words of the Hail Mary.

Most of the time, I address the Lord God and all of my allies above in my own words. Still, occasions arise when my pain is so great that words escape me. It is then that I lose myself in the comfort of the Rosary just as my mom did so long ago. Knowing that Mary endured and survived difficulties far greater than my own really is comforting. So it is that I pray…

Hail Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with you.
Blessed are you among women,
and blessed in the fruit of your womb, Jesus.
Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners,
now and at the hour of our death. Amen.

©2019 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

The Bright Side

With me at your right hand,
you will not be shaken.

Psalm 16:8

When the patio door refused to slide open, my husband rubbed his forehead and asked, “Now what?” As he checked the door from top to bottom, he added, “But if this is the worst that happens today, I’m a lucky man.” I smiled as I agreed whole-heartedly.

Though our life together hasn’t been trauma free, my husband and I have managed to look at the brighter side of things when tragedy touches us. I was blessed with this mindset early on. My husband was not. It has taken years of nurturing his own faith as best he could for him to develop his positive stance toward life’s negatives. Though this transformation sometimes reverts to a “work in progress,” I admire my husband’s persistence.

You know, God has encouraged our faith from the beginning. When humankind failed to acknowledge the wisdom of the prophets, God sent Jesus of Nazareth to get our attention even more dramatically. Who but one from God could have conceived of the prodigal son’s forgiving father and the lost coin’s owner who turned everything upside down to find it? Better still, Jesus lived the love, compassion, mercy and forgiveness which he attributed to God. Still, in spite of his goodness, tragedy touched Jesus’ life as well. “In the end,” my husband reminds me often, “there is heaven!”

The moral of the story is this: We aren’t in heaven, so this life will never be perfect. Still, God loves us and is with us in everything. In the mean time, it’s up to us to remember that better things will come.

Loving God, thank you for your encouraging presence.

©2019 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

The Gift of Hope

I am your God,
who takes hold of your right hand,
calming your fears.

Isaiah 41:13

While leaving the post office the other day, I ran into a woman who wore a very familiar-looking sling. I couldn’t help asking if she’d had shoulder surgery. When she replied in the affirmative, I listened as she described her recovery to date. I also shared some things which seemed to help me way back when. The most important advice I could give her was to persist in her physical therapy, to practice every movement allowed and to take her time. Only she could determine what was and wasn’t too painful. When we parted ways, I couldn’t help recounting my own experience in this regard. I admit that I shuddered at the thought!

When I discovered that my shoulder was in need of repair, a very short surgery, a very lengthy recovery and my fear of the unknown overwhelmed me. I survived only because of the many amazing people with whom I’d walked through far greater health concerns. They truly inspired me through those difficult days. Some have long since moved on to new life. Others faced each new day with the resolve to return to good health which they eventually did.

My encounter with that fellow shoulder-surgery-survivor touched me in unexpected ways. Though recalling that miserable recovery period filled me with angst, that I survived it filled me with renewed hope. Our chance meeting served as a reminder that I do have it in me to survive everything this life places in my path. I need only to remain open to the wonderfully encouraging people around me and to follow the advice I offered outside of the post office that day.

Compassionate God, you make your presence known in amazing ways. Help all of the suffering to recognize that you are at their sides through all that they endure.

©2019 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Generations of Hope

I hear what God proclaims;
God proclaims peace.

Psalm 85:9ab

I’ve enjoyed an abundance of family time as of late due to recent birthdays, our family vacation and our anniversaries. Still, in spite of the tangible love evident in all of these events, I’m bothered these days. I wonder aloud if this restlessness is a sign that I’m getting older. A sense of urgency overwhelms me and I feel a deep need to fix everything that needs fixing!

I love our sons, their wives and our grandchildren more than anything else on this earth. This prompts me to be gravely troubled by the current state of this world of ours. When I convince myself that things cannot possibly get worse, the airwaves deliver another bit of bad news. After lamenting this turn of events, reminders of poverty and other social ills here at home and around the world hit me right between the eyes. I think of my family, especially our grandchildren, and I wonder what this world will be like long after Grandpa and I are gone. How will this mess get fixed?

The family photo resting above my keyboard interrupts my brooding. The sparkle in the eyes of my offspring insists that I give them and their contemporaries a little credit. That sparkle touches smoldering embers of hope deep within which I’ve neglected these days. It occurs to me that numerous generations before me have wrung their hands in despair as well, only to be surprised by the goodness brought about by the young people among them. Finally, I find peace.

Loving God, thank you for the gift of each new generation. Within them lie hope and the potential for peace on this earth.

©2019 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved