Always Encouraged and Always Loved

The seeds on good ground are those who
hear the word in a spirit of openness,
retain it, and bear fruit through perseverance.

Luke 8:15

I’m coming to the end of my journal of our trip to Israel. Unfortunately, I didn’t fill that journal as much as I might have this time around. I knew this would likely be my last visit to Jesus’ homeland. As a result, I invested far more time in looking than I invested in writing. So it is that I’m struggling a bit regarding what to share next…

To clear my head, I decided to take a walk. I left my cluttered desk and grabbed my coat and gloves. I even wore a hat. As I made my way in the cold along our neighborhood’s deserted streets, I treated myself to a few moments of inspiration. As I ambled along, the clouds parted for a few seconds and I felt the sun’s warmth on my shoulders. I thoroughly enjoyed this much-needed hug. “You are so good, Dear God!” I said to myself. “You offer consolation everywhere, even here in Gurnee!”

As I basked in the sunshine, my thoughts returned to Israel and to the many unexpected encounters with Jesus which occurred there. Though I realized I was in The Holy Land, I didn’t expect that “holiness” to be tangible. Yet it was. At every turn, I caught glimpses of Jesus’ life and that of his closest friends. Since childhood, I’ve tried to imagine the realities of Jesus’ time among us. My encounter with Jesus’ homeland brought that reality into focus.

With that thought, I headed home to write this for you…

Persistent God, thank you for your encouragement which finds us wherever we are and in the midst of whatever we’re facing in the moment at hand.

©2020 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Build The Moment At Hand

Just minutes after I sat at my keyboard to begin this writing, I was tempted to retreat to my recliner for a nap. My dear husband and I had returned from the Holy Land two days earlier. In spite of my fatigue, I’d convinced myself that inspiration would come quickly and that my jet-lag would morph into a distant memory. Much to my dismay, I was wrong on both counts. Though I’d slept well the night before, I was ready for a nap before noon. Unfortunately, I couldn’t give in to my fatigue. This reflection needed to be posted in short order and I had to take advantage of the small window of writing time at hand. In the end, I turned away from my keyboard to peruse the journal I’d carried across Israel. Perhaps it held the inspiration I longed for…

I wasn’t disappointed. As I read through my hurriedly scribbled notes, every phrase elicited a precious memory. Halfway through that little notebook, I saw Nazareth written at the top of a list. I’d noted the towns Jesus visited throughout his ministry. As I read Nazareth, images of the ruins of that tiny town filled me up. Mary and Joseph lived in Nazareth before they married and it was there that Mary agreed to be Jesus’ mother. The scriptures tell us that Mary and Joseph left Nazareth early on to comply with a census. While they were away, Jesus was born. After the Magi’s visit, the couple fled to Egypt to avoid Herod’s wrath. When Herod died not long afterward, they returned to Nazareth to raise Jesus. Most visitors to Nazareth see the portion of Mary’s childhood home displayed in The Church of the Annunciation. This tiny cave-like room is connected to the remainder of Mary’s house as well as to her neighborhood. Much to our good fortune, our tour leader knows the site’s curator. This welcoming gentleman proudly ushered us toward additional unearthed homes which border the church’s exterior. It was there that I caught a glimpse of life as Joseph, Mary and Jesus knew it…

Today’s feast of The Presentation of the Lord acknowledges the journey Mary and Joseph made from their home to the temple in Jerusalem. Luke’s gospel (Luke 2:22-40) tells us that the couple did so because The Law required them to present Jesus to the Lord when he was forty days old. Though the trip from Nazareth to the temple was only six miles, traveling on foot with an infant through desert-like conditions certainly complicated that endeavor. We can only hope that Little Jesus cooperated by sleeping between feedings along the way. When they finally arrived, Joseph and Mary likely breathed a sigh of relief. They probably expected an uneventful experience until Simeon approached them. Simeon was a devout man who had prayed unceasingly for peace in Israel. As soon as he saw the young family before him, Simeon embraced Jesus. He’d waited a lifetime to see the one who would bring salvation to his people. With that, Simeon told Mary, “…this child is destined to be the fall and rise of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be contradicted and you yourself a sword will pierce.” I can only imagine what Mary and Joseph were thinking…

As I consider that tiny neighborhood hewn from rock back in Nazareth, I appreciate the power of Simeon’s comments more than ever. The simple existence suggested by that archaeological dig was complicated far beyond Mary’s and Joseph’s expectations. When Simeon spoke, did Mary’s thoughts return to the onset of her pregnancy? Did she wonder why she wasn’t warned of what was to come? Did Joseph recall the dream that explained Mary’s condition and the subsequent dream that saved his young family from Herod’s terror? Still, in spite of their worry, Mary and Joseph left the temple that day and returned home with Jesus. Though they walked an uncertain and perhaps treacherous path, Joseph and Mary persisted. They became the nurturing family which prepared Jesus for his life’s work. Luke’s gospel tells us, “The child grew and became strong, filled with wisdom; and the favor of God was upon him.” Ultimately, Jesus changed the face of humankind with his lessons in love and forgiveness, compassion and mercy, patience and humility. Jesus taught his followers to flourish amidst the unexpected just as his parents had done…

After rereading my journal, I revisited our photos from Israel. Though many feature ancient sites not as well-preserved as Nazareth, I no longer refer to any of them as ruins. It occurs to me that the world-full of artifacts which chronicles human history is far more than a collection of ruins. Indeed, they are the building blocks from which humankind has constructed the moments at hand since time began. Mary and Joseph responded to Simeon’s startling insight by building a life for Jesus which has impacted this world ever since. Today, God calls you and me to respond to the startling and joyful, heartbreaking and amazing moments at hand just as creatively. You see, God has great faith in our ability to flourish amidst the unexpected just as Jesus, Mary and Joseph did.

©2020 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

And So I Write On!

I have written this to make you realize
that you possess eternal life…

1 John 5:13

One of the most enjoyable things I do is write. This is an odd turn of events because it was extremely difficult for me to earn an “A” on writing assignments in high school. Whether creative endeavors or research papers, I usually just missed that coveted A. In college, I did slightly better only because most papers involved research and the recycling of established facts which involved little creativity on my part. Thirty years ago, my new pastor asked me to write “something inspirational that will fill a column or two” in our first parish bulletin. I surprised myself when I took this challenge. Somehow, I managed to bury my fear and to compose something acceptable in response.

Every week since, I’ve poured over the scriptures and my own life experiences to do the same. What began as a challenge has morphed into a welcome opportunity to spread the good news regarding what God has so generously revealed to me. Truly, I can’t help myself.

As I’ve shared numerous times, this writing adventure has inspired a book. One third of that manuscript rests in a file on my computer and in a “just in case” hard copy. The remaining two-thirds teeter between some sketchy notes and another file lodged in my memory. Today, I’ve reopened all of those files to continue this endeavor. I assume God will be involved with this book as well. It’s the story of our relationship, God’s with me and mine with God. Wish me luck!

Good and Gracious God, HELP!!!

©2018 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Still Writing On…

I have written this to make you realize
that you possess eternal life…

1 John 5:13

One discovery I’ve made as an adult is that I truly enjoy writing. This is an odd turn of events because it was extremely difficult for me to receive an “A” on creative writing assignments throughout high school. In college, I did slightly better only because most papers involved research and the recycling of established facts which involved little creativity on my part. Twenty-five years ago, my husband and I helped to found a new parish. Our new pastor asked me to write “something inspirational that will fill a column or two” for our first parish bulletin. I surprised myself when I took on this challenge. Somehow, I managed to bury my fear and to compose something acceptable in response.

Every week since, I’ve poured over the scriptures, my faith and my own life experiences to do the same. What began as a challenge has morphed into a welcome opportunity to write. The best part is that the subject matter is very important to me. I am who I am because of God’s presence in my life. This opportunity to inspire others to make a place for God in their lives is a dream-come-true!

Generous God, you inspire all of the moments of our lives. Help us to realize your loving presence in our labor, in our leisure and in all that we do.

©2017 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Write On…

I have written this to make you realize
that you possess eternal life…

1 John 5:13

One of the most enjoyable things I do is to write. This is an odd turn of events because it was extremely difficult for me to receive an “A” on creative writing assignments throughout high school. In college, I did slightly better only because most papers involved research and the recycling of established facts which involved little creativity on my part. Twenty-three years ago, my new pastor asked me to write “something inspirational that will fill a column or two” in our first parish bulletin. I surprised myself when I took this challenge. Somehow, I managed to bury my fear and to compose something acceptable in response.

Every week since, I have poured over the scriptures and my own life experiences to do the same. What began as a challenge has morphed into a welcome opportunity to spread the word –not my word, but the Good News that God’s Spirit has so generously revealed to me. Truly, I cannot help myself. What God has shared is simply too good to keep to myself!

Generous God, thank You for inspiring all of the moments of our lives. Help us to realize your loving presence in our labor and our leisure and in all that we do.

©2015 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved