Every Day Miracles

Though we sent her a card the other day, my husband just called his aunt to wish her a happy birthday.  As I listened to Mike’s end of their conversation, I imagined Aunt Yola’s face, animated as ever, as she reported the latest family news.  I remembered many a call to Aunt Yola over the years.  She and Mike’s Uncle Frank embraced me as their own from the day we met.  The phone calls have gone back and forth ever since.

In the beginning, forty years ago to be precise, Aunt Yola and Uncle Franks’ daughter, Mary, answered the phone for her parents.  Mary sped past them, anticipating another opportunity to announce a caller.  Mary was a master of voice recognition, and she correctly identified anyone she had heard over the phone at least once.  As soon as she heard the “Hello,” Mary called, “It’s Aunt Jennie,” or “It’s Michael,” or “It’s Mary Ellen,” or “It’s Theresa!”  How did she do it?

When Mike and I were engaged, I asked if Mary could join my niece in serving as a flower girl for our wedding.  Mary exuded life, and she lifted the spirits of everyone in her proximity.  She would certainly have stolen the show that day, but who would have minded?  Unfortunately, a full day of celebration would have been too much for Mike’s little cousin.  Mary endured poor health since birth.  She had a weak heart and many of the other symptoms that accompanied Down’s Syndrome fifty years ago.

Mary had been critically ill several times, and Uncle Frank and Aunt Yola were completely devoted to her.  Mary’s doctor and the rest of us agree that it was their tireless and loving care that kept Mary with us for so long.  As it happened, Mary attended our wedding and then spent the rest of the day with her aunt.  She did leave her mark on the ceremony with her sweet announcement, “Here comes Mary Ellen!” as my dad escorted me down the aisle.

Mary welcomed our older son, Mike, into the family, and she brightened our family gatherings.  Mary also frightened us a few times with threatening illnesses and hospital stays.  When a call eventually announced that Mary would be going home, a collective sigh rose from family members near and far.  As different as their lives had been from the expected, Aunt Yola and Uncle Frank thanked God with all their hearts every time their little girl recovered.  Mary would be a difficult little lady to live without.  She read very well and enjoyed math, and Mary’s belief in Santa and her devotion to Jesus remained for her entire life.  Though she endured the onset of puberty, her innocence brought a peace to her home that is rare among families these days.  Though her parents moved toward middle age, their forever little girl kept them very young.

When Mary was twenty-two, she entered the hospital one last time.  Uncle Frank and Aunt Yola alerted us that the dreaded cold that threatened to develop into “something too strong to fight” had arrived.  They knew Mary very well, and they noticed even the smallest changes in her energy level.  Mary had been weakening for a while.  Sadly, Aunt Yola and Uncle Frank also knew the likely outcome.

With those she loved at her bedside, Mary drifted in and out of a peaceful sleep.  When she woke for a few minutes, Mary told Aunt Yola that she was going to see Jesus “pretty soon.”  Not much later, Mary drifted off to the sleep that would be her last.  Afterward, Aunt Yola and Uncle Frank, Mary’s sister and her brother-in-law shed many a tear.  Yet, when we went to their home to sit with them and offer our sympathy, all they could talk about was Mary’s joy over being with Jesus.  All they could talk about were the things Mary knew now that she had never known before.  All they could talk about was how special Mary was and how Jesus had greeted their Little Mary with open arms.

I share this story with you because the miracle that was Mary’s life reflects the spirit of the miracles Jesus performs in Mark’s gospel (Mark 5:21-43).  With great faith in God’s kindness, Jairus goes to Jesus to seek his daughter’s cure.  With great faith in God’s compassion, the hemorrhaging woman touches Jesus’ cloak, knowing that this will be enough to make her well.  With great faith in God’s promises, Aunt Yola and Uncle Frank filled Mary’s life with love.  With the great faith her parent’s shared with her, Mary recognized the Jesus who would take her home.  Though not as dramatic as the miracles in today’s gospel, Mary’s life is miraculous just the same.  Two ordinary people allowed God to work through them to give a very sick little girl twenty-two years among us.  Imagine the miracles God plans to work through you and me!

©2012 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved


God Loves and Nurtures as Needed

“…he drove out the spirits by a word and cured all the sick
to fulfill what had been said by Isaiah the prophet:
‘He took away our infirmities
and bore our diseases.'”
From Matthew 8:5-17

I sat, mindlessly tapping my fingers on the table.  Numerous troubling circumstances continue to entrench my loved ones with no end in sight.  As I considered each scenario, I realized that there is little I can do to alleviate any of the issues that plague the people God has given me to love.

Just outside my window, a large robin plopped himself into our birdbath.  He 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 this sentence, I realized that the same is true for all of us.  Just as that water waited, available for my robin friend whenever 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 doable.  Though branches and boulders clutter the road that lies ahead, we manage to climb over them or to plod around them because we are not alone.  God remains every step of the way.  Though we may only occasionally choose to bathe in the waters of God’s love and care, God remains to offer them just the same.  When all else fails, God remains.

©2012 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

When Darkness Threatens, Look Within

When the poor one called out, the Lord heard,
and from all his distress, he saved him.
From Psalm 34:2-9

When darkness encircles us and seems to close in, it is difficult to look beyond ourselves for hope and consolation.  Indeed, this is reason that God chooses to dwell within us.  Regardless of the danger that threatens from the outside, God remains steadfast deep inside.  It is here that true hope and consolation lie.  It is here that we find everything that we truly need to continue.

Today, I encourage each one of us to ignore those exterior threats and even those things from within that clamor to drain our very lives from us.  Today, let us sit quietly in the loving presence of God who rests in the heart of each of our souls.  Let us sit quietly and imagine the embrace of the One who loves us more than it is possible to love.  Just know that the meager embrace you imagine is lost in the reality of God’s arms around you.  Just know that the meager embrace you imagine is lost in the warmth of God’s bosom where you rest your head.

The darkness that threatens from outside and inside of us shrinks and disappears in the wake of God’s ever-present love.

©2012 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

You Really Do Make All of the Difference in the World!

Six decades of life on this earth have taught me the importance we have to one another.  Though this sounds much like a cheap cliché, you and I do make all of the difference in the world to those we have been given to love.  The nature of that difference depends upon how we choose to welcome or to run away from the opportunities presented by each and every person we encounter along the way.

Consider grown children who embrace their aging and ailing fathers and mothers.  They support their parents through their illnesses as lovingly as their parents supported them when they took their first steps.  Even parents who have failed miserably in nurturing their children find that their offspring overlook the sins of the past and care for them just the same.  Consider the teacher whom your son or daughter –and you– will never forget.  He or she went that extra mile when your child needed this most.  A very different future for all concerned is the result.  Consider the neighbor who watched the kids when you had to rush your spouse to the emergency room.  Consider the friend who brought in meals for as long as it took you to recuperate.  Consider that amazing volunteer who never fails to cheer those to whom he brings Communion each week.  Consider the stranger who stopped to help when you dropped your groceries.

I have my own list of lifesavers who have said or done just the right thing at just the right time to bring just the right encouragement my way.  I am absolutely certain I would not have accomplished a fraction of a good deed without these encouraging encounters.  Sadly, we all also know individuals –including ourselves, at times– who have had precisely the opposite effects upon others.  Indeed, the devastation caused by our choices not to love is immeasurable.

Perhaps this is the reason Jesus responded to every soul in need along the way.  In each instance, Jesus revealed God’s unconditional and all-embracing love.  By investing his time in caring for the most needy among us, Jesus illustrated the possibilities if we choose to invest as wisely in one another.

Today, we celebrate the Birth of John the Baptist.  Though John is Jesus’ cousin, his greater claim to fame is his call to prepare Jesus’ way among the people.  Luke’s gospel (1:57-66; 80) tells us that John’s mission was clear from his birth.  Though his parents were quite advanced in years, the archangel Gabriel announced to John’s father that his barren wife would bear a son.  When he grew into manhood, though John was free to do whatever he wished with his life, John invested himself in answering God’s call.  Indeed, John’s response was so generous and selfless that Jesus proclaimed, “There were none born greater than he.”  To Jesus, John’s work made all of the difference in the world.  To Jesus and to those around us, your work and mine make all of the difference in the world as well.

Before we become overwhelmed because there is simply too much to do and too much love lacking in this world to make a difference, consider the generous souls I mentioned a few paragraphs above.  Has anyone’s influence changed your life?  How many times have you thanked someone for all he or she has done for you?  How many times has the response been, “I had no idea this would mean so much to you.”  A chance smile, a serendipitous arrival in the right place at the right time, an urge to detour that cannot be explained or a reluctant social appearance –each one has resulted in a significant change for someone.  I would never have met the good deacon if I had not agreed to do a last minute favor for a mutual friend.  If my life as I know it is the result of a single, unplanned favor granted, imagine the possibilities when we deliberately choose to love those God places in our path!

Though John the Baptizer said that he was not worthy to fasten Jesus’ sandal, John embraced the opportunity to prepare the way for Jesus’ coming.  Though you and I can also count ourselves among the unworthy, God provides us the opportunity of a lifetime as well.  John made all of the difference in the world to Jesus.  You and I can make all of the difference in the world to someone today, tomorrow and always.

©2012 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved


Send Your Troubles Heavenward

“…But when you pray, go to your inner room,
close the door, and pray to your Father in secret.”
From Matthew 6:1-6

I have found myself quite frustrated over the past few days.  Though I manage my own troubles reasonably well, I have difficult with my inability to “fix” 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 is that I do what I can as I wonder why things have to be “this way” or “that way.”  When I am in the midst of my best fretting and hand-wringing, it occurs to me that I’m relying on the wrong one to solve the problems and to soothe the suffering around me.  It is then that I sheepishly retreat to the quiet of my room and turn my eyes upward.  There, I turn over all that troubles me to the One who always makes all of the difference in the world.

©2012 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

We Walk That Extra Mile Together

Jesus said to his disciples,
“…Should anyone press you into service for one mile,
go with him for two miles.
Give to the one who asks of you,
and do not turn your back on one who wants to borrow.”
From Matthew 5:38-42

Sometimes, it seems that those around us have read the gospel above and have decided to push us to fulfill Jesus’ words to the letter.  Though we often feel great sympathy for those in need, we sometimes find ourselves overwhelmed by numerous demands on our time and/or our resources.

It is when I am overwhelmed in this way that someone always manages to come along to minister to me.  Though my busyness or limited resources are the result of my own choices, this makes no difference to the kind soul who has come to my aid.  He or she simply says just the right things or spends just enough time listening to ease me through this rough spot.

I know that I walk away from these encounters feeling replenished and revived, fully capable of responding to the next person who needs me.  I can only hope that my benefactor is repaid in kind down the road.

Could this be what Jesus had in mind all along?  Could it be that we are meant to care for one another and to be cared for by one another until we make it home, where our gracious God will take over the loving and caring for each one of us?

©2012 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved