Small Extraordinary Acts

Our granddaughters could not contain their excitement when they called. One proclaimed, “Grandma! I made four goals in my soccer game. Four goals, Grandma!” Daddy offered the details and then added that his older daughter had scored two goals in her game. After I countered with appropriate excitement, Daddy reported his youngest had also played soccer that morning. When asked if she scored a goal, the little one ignored the query and responded, “I had fun!” As I hung up the phone, I wondered how my son and his wife managed three soccer games on a single Saturday morning. I will find out a few Saturdays from now when Grandpa and I watch the girls. How they do so with smiles, I hope I will discover as well. As I write, it occurs to me that we did the same for our sons way back when…

My husband and I spent sixteen consecutive years on the periphery of the baseball fields adjacent to our local American Legion Hall. Our sons enjoy sports of every sort. Their love affairs with things athletic began early on and came to fruition at age seven when each of them began their baseball careers with T-ball. At the time, neither their dad nor I was particularly enthralled with sports. No, my husband has not always been a “cool” sports fan. However, we wanted the boys to enjoy the outdoors, team play and everything else wholesome which little kids did at the time. So, driven by the boys’ affection for the Cubs and our affection for the boys, off to T-ball we went.

These memories are but a few of the treasures that grace us these days. Our sons had the good sense to fall in love with our amazing daughters-in-law. Our soccer-playing granddaughters give us far more than their athletic ability to be grateful for. Our Wedding Anniversary celebration reminded us of our many good years together and the precious family and friends with whom we have shared them. Our trip to Alaska provided inspiring encounters with new friends who shared their stories with us and with numerous natural wonders which we had only previously read about. Of course, all of this brings to mind our own parents and the other family members and loved ones who touched us deeply before moving on to eternal life. These amazing people made many choices on our behalf which found their basis in love. We hope that we have done the same at one time or another for each one. Sometimes, we and our loved ones made choices in an effort to act in a loving manner, even when we knew in our hearts that the love simply was not there. At those times, I am certain that God filled in the blanks because things usually ended well.

In Luke’s gospel (Luke 16:19-31), Jesus offers a parable about Dives and Lazarus which illustrates the devastation that occurs when even the smallest opportunities to love are ignored. Dives, a rich man, indulges himself without restraint. Lazarus is a beggar who has fallen upon very hard times. Lazarus lies at Dives’ door, weak from hunger and ill, his body covered with sores. Only the dogs wandering the street attend to Lazarus by licking his wounds when they pass by. Dives overlooks Lazarus and is completely oblivious to Lazarus’ eventual death.

Later, when Dives dies, he finds himself tormented in the netherworld. Looking up, Dives notices Lazarus as he rests in the arms of Abraham. Finally, Dives acknowledges Lazarus because Lazarus may be able to help him. Dives begs Abraham to allow Lazarus to bring him a few drops of water to sooth his parched tongue. Indeed, Dives’ request is minimal, as minimal as the effort needed to provide Lazarus with the few scraps of food and clean bandages which would have saved his life. In the end, Abraham tells Dives that his failure to do the minimum has made all of the difference in the netherworld for both men. There, Dives became the needy one and Lazarus rested in splendor.

You know, most of what we do for one another, our families and those who cross our paths isn’t particularly extraordinary. What is extraordinary is the transformation our meager efforts bring about in one another’s lives. God asks only that we take advantage of the lifetime of opportunities we are given.

©2013 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Thank You, God!

Then our mouth was filled with laughter,
and our tongue with rejoicing.
Then they said among the nations,
“The Lord has done great things for us;
we are glad indeed.”

From Psalm 126

While sharing our Alaskan trip photos with a friend, my thoughts returned to that fateful day in our first port, Icy Straight Point. The Hoonah Indians operate the world’s longest ziprider there and I rode it. Throughout the entire ride, I repeated two phrases: “This is awesome!” and “Thank you, God, for giving me the courage to do this!” I also smiled the entire time.

Though I have referenced this adventure in other posts, it is likely that I will do so again. You see, this awesome -Yes, I wrote “awesome” again!- adventure will remain with me forever. I simply cannot let go of the amazing view I enjoyed from that vantage point. I also cannot let go of the sense that I rode in the palm of Someone’s hand all the while.

Generous God, my mouth will forever be filled laughter and my tongue with rejoicing with regard to this AWESOME experience. Thank you for this and for all of the blessings with which you touch my life. Even for the blessings which I fail to see at the moment, I thank you!

©2013 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Pick Up The Pieces

I prepare my Sunday posts by reading the scriptures for the coming Sunday’s liturgy. Sometimes, as has been the case today, I reread them several times until the message sinks in. Usually, a recent event which relates to the theme comes to mind and I have my story. Today, I find myself struggling with the gospel, and I am not quite sure where to go from here.

Luke (16:1-13) tells us that Jesus once again uses a story to teach. Jesus shares the tale of a man who handles the financial affairs of a wealthy landowner. The landowner discovers that this steward has cheated him. He calls in the man for an accounting of his deeds after which he plans to fire him. The dishonest steward understands his predicament. Because he is too proud to dig ditches or to beg, the steward takes action.

To insure his future, this steward calls in his master’s debtors. He directs one to cut his debt by twenty percent and another to cut his debt by half. The steward’s newfound allies will see to his comfort when this ugly incident is resolved. During the final accounting, the master marvels at the efforts of his dishonest steward. The master seems not to be surprised that the steward found a way to save himself.

Actually, this steward cut the debts of his master’s clients by the amount that would have been his own commission. Though the Law forbids the use of exorbitant interest rates, it is common in Jesus’ day for stewards to tack their own fees onto their masters’ loans. When the steward erases his share of these loans, he befriends possible benefactors while also seeing to it that his master is fully repaid. In the end, though the steward fails to retain his job, he succeeds in making a bad situation a little better by cutting everyone’s losses before he moves on. In this parable, Jesus surprises me a bit by focusing upon the creativity of the dishonest steward rather than condemning his sin. Perhaps Jesus hopes to call my attention to the reality of life in this not-so-perfect world of ours.

This past week, I busied myself organizing photos from my husband’s and my recent trip to Alaska. I continued to smile over our 40th Anniversary celebration, too. Current events included the onset of the new school year for our granddaughters and a much-anticipated family wedding. As a result, I have not focused at all upon the not-so-perfect aspects of life -which explains my difficulty with today’s gospel. I am not in the appropriate frame of mind to deal with either the steward’s dishonesty or his attempt to pick up the pieces and to make things right again. Perhaps I am reluctant to acknowledge the imperfections of the world because it feels good not to worry for a change.

Still, reading the paper, listening to the news and responding to an email from a friend in need of prayers have re-acquainted me with reality. I have a long list of people, causes and intentions for which to pray. As I add to my list the graces needed to make this world a bit more livable and lovable, I find that I do need to hear what Jesus has to say about picking up the pieces and making things right again.

Indeed, each of us needs to hear and to understand that life in this world is not perfect. Perfection awaits us in heaven. However, each of us also needs to hear and to understand that we can make the most of our lives in ways which will fill us and those around us with grace. Indeed, each of us experiences God’s Spirit, God’s love and God’s life every time we pick up the pieces and start again.

The steward in Luke’s gospel did precisely what was necessary to make things right in the end. When he left his master’s service, his final act was an honest one. Our challenge is to counter the imperfections of this world and those we find within ourselves with equal resolve. When we do so, we improve our little corners of this world as only we can.

©2013 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Wedding Blessings

Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.
1 Corinthians 13:4-7

I am celebrating love today! Christine and Joey will marry in a few hours, and I will be there as the ceremony unfolds. Though I typically enjoy weddings, this particular union brings special delight. Along with their unique talents and gifts, this bride and groom offer one another a rare measure of love that is difficult to define.

From the first time I saw them together, this couple’s presence to one another touched me. I find Christine’s and Joey’s devotion to each other to be tangible. Both playful and serious interactions seem to solidify their bond further. Still, when I try to put my finger on what it is that I see in them, I am at a loss. I can only say that I like what I see evolving between them.

Perhaps early in their relationship Christine and Joey took a look at St. Paul’s often referenced letter to the Corinthians. This morning, as I read and reread this discourse on love, I found much of what I see in Christine and Joey. Yes, this particular union brings special delight!

Loving God, bless Christine and Joey with all that they will need to offer one another their best throughout this marriage. Be with them in good times and in trying times, today and always.

©2013 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Bucket List

I am writing you,
although I hope to visit you soon.

1 Timothy 3:14

While in Alaska, my husband and I met many wonderful people. The stories shared by fellow travelers and local residents alike never ceased to amaze me. Each one increased my faith in the unique blessedness of each of one us.

Two quite seasonsed travelers piqued my interest when they remarked that visiting Alaska was the last adventure on their bucket list. At first, I was thrilled for this determined duo as they were on the verge of completing all that they had set out to do. As I considered their predicament further, I also felt a bit of sadness for them. “Now what do they have to look forward to?” I wondered.

It seems to me that these daring ladies offer three important lessons to the rest of us. First, we all need to plan a bit in order to accomplish the things that mean most to us. A bucket list is not a bad idea. Second, we all need to tackle our lists, one item at a time, with determination and good humor. Remember, we make God laugh most heartily when we plan too carefully. Third, we need to keep our bucket lists active. What I mean is that we all need something to look forward to and something to keep us busy on our way there.

Loving God, life on this earth is always an adventure. Please guide us along the way with the wisdom to plan well, the courage to embrace every moment and the stamina to do our best until we make our way home to you.

©2013 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

A Parent’s Loss

As he drew near to the gate of the city,
a man who had died was being carried out,
the only son of his mother, and she was a widow.
A large crowd from the city was with her.
When the Lord saw her, he was moved with pity…

From Luke 7:11-17

The widowed bear a heavy burden. In spite of the length or brevity of their spouses’ illnesses and in spite of preparations made of left undone, nothing fully readies any of us for the loss of our partners in this life. Even when our lives together have been “testy” at best, continuing on without the other is a challenge. Afterward, every problem and blessing, every sorrow and bit of good fortune is mourned or celebrated alone.

It is this aftermath that Jesus addresses in Luke’s gospel. In his day, a widow left behind found herself in dire straights. Only a son could assist her in maintaining her possessions and her own wellbeing. If this son was also lost, the widow might as well have died herself. She had no standing in the society of her day. Still, this devastation meant nothing in the face of losing her child.

Parents are not supposed to bury their children, and there is nothing more heartbreaking when this occurs.

Compassionate God, you know the pain of each of us who has lost a loved one. You know that it is never easy to say good-bye. Though we know our loved ones rest with you, we miss them. This is especially true when we lose a child to whom we have promised a lifetime of love. Merciful God, just a Jesus responded to that widow so long ago, respond to those who are missing their children today. Touch them with a special measure of your peace.

©2013 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved