Happy Hopeful Halloween!

Rejoice and be glad,
for your reward will be great in heaven.

Matthew 5:12

When I was in elementary school, the good sisters made it clear that there would be no Halloween without All Saints Day. Halloween evolved from “The Eve of All Hallows” -the day before the saints’ holy day. In centuries past, adults in some European countries paraded in costumes on the Eve of All Hallows. They depicted various stages of our lives and our positions in the human hierarchy. This was all to remind us that no one is exempt from death. Today, children dress up as princesses and super-heroes, witches and ghosts with the hope of gathering as much candy as possible. I’m quite certain that none of them will give a thought to their mortality today.

Though the children who come to our doors aren’t thinking much about life after this life, they do come with their hope intact. Trick-or-treaters hope more than anything that we will drop their favorite treats into their bags. As for me, I plan to engage in some hope of my own. Between doorbell rings, I will consider the hopeful lives of my loved ones who have passed away. I will pray to them and request their help in keeping hope alive in my life. I will allow my trick-or-treaters to teach me to look beyond the masks we sometimes wear to the gifts buried deep within those around me. We must always hope for the best in one another. I will look beneath the surface of the tricky situations which trouble me today, with hope in God’s ability to turn these troubles into treats of opportunity.

Yes, Halloween and every day give us reason to hope!

Loving God, thank you for getting us through life’s tricky times by filling us up with the treats of your love and companionship.

©2014 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

People First

Jesus said to him, “Rise, take up your mat and walk.”
Immediately the man became well, took up his mat, and walked.

John 5:8-9

The scriptures make it quite clear that Jesus could not resist a troubled soul. On the occasion cited above, Jesus assisted a man confined to a mat on the ground. Though the man somehow found his way to the healing waters of Bethesda, he could find no one to help him into the pool. Every time he seemed close, someone else went in before him. Jesus noted the poor man’s predicament and offered him far more than could be found in the pool. The man accepted Jesus’ gesture with absolute faith.

Jesus’ good deed drew the attention of the Pharisees because it occurred on the Sabbath. When Jesus instructed the man to pick up his mat and walk, he violated the Sabbath by causing the man to carry his mat. When the Pharisees saw the man walking with his mat, they chastised him. When they discovered that Jesus was responsible, the Pharisees began to plot against this troublemaker who seemed oblivious of the law. Jesus responded to the Pharisees in kind, pointing out their error in placing The Law above the basic needs of God’s people.

Dear Jesus, whenever we cry out, you listen. Even when we don’t understand or know what we need, you respond. Help us to respond to one another with your heart.

©2014 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Dispel The Doubt

“You may go; your son will live.”
The man believed what Jesus said to him and left
John 4:50

It has taken me a lifetime to imitate the man about whom John wrote the words above. I am sorry to admit that I have succeeded only some of the time. This man was a royal official, likely quite used to having his every need met without question. At the time, the man’s child lay dying. He had likely tapped every resource at his disposal to find a cure. Still, in spite of his position and out of desperation, the man sought out Jesus for help. Something he had heard about Jesus convinced him to seek Jesus’ help. When Jesus instructed him to go home because his son was recovering, the man believed Jesus and went home. The man was not disappointed.

I cannot be sure of what this royal official learned about Jesus before he approached him for help. However, I am quite certain that he knew only the tiniest fraction of what we have come to know about Jesus in the two millennia since. Still, in the face of two thousand plus years of proof of God’s love for us in more than a billion lifetimes, there are times when I doubt.

Compassionate God, you love us far more than we love ourselves, yet we doubt. Please strengthen our faith in your constant companionship and care. Let us simply believe and be on our way.

©2014 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Thanks, Mr. Santo!

“…everyone who exalts himself will be humbled,
and the one who humbles himself will be exalted”

From Luke 18:14

Because we were having an overnight guest, I dusted our son Tim’s room. Though he’s been married for four years, his influence on the decor remains. This means that sports paraphernalia is everywhere. When I attempted to stow a few things in a drawer, I found a couple of baseball cards. I wondered why Jodie Davis and Ron Santo weren’t stored in a binder or box somewhere. As I closed that drawer, thoughts of a prior encounter with Mr. Santo came to mind…

My sisters and I took our mom to Santo’s, a local restaurant owned by the famed third baseman of the Chicago Cubs. While we were there, Ron Santo made one of his frequent appearances and mingled with his patrons. When our mother saw him, she flew out of her chair to greet him. Ron Santo graciously shook her hand. Unfortunately for him, my mom did not let go. She pulled the poor man to our table. “You have to meet my five daughters,” she told him.

Ron Santo never stopped smiling as my mother dragged him across the room. When he arrived at our table, we tried to apologize for our mom’s enthusiasm, but he would have none of it. Ron Santo looked around at each of us and said, “Well, you sure have beautiful daughters, just like their mother!” He chatted with us for several minutes, gave our mom a hug and then went on his way. When we left the restaurant, Ron Santo made a point of saying good-bye to our mom.

Though this beloved Cubby is remembered for so much more, I am certain my mom reminded him of his kindness when she met him at heaven’s door.

Loving God, help me always to appreciate the good people who grace my life. Their presence sustains me. Also, please bless Ron Santo and my mom with heaven’s best.

©2014 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Happy Writing… Again

Hear , O Lord,the sound of my call;
hear, O Lord, and answer me.

Psalm 27:7

I recently subjected myself to an impossible writing schedule. For an entire month, I spent every minute at my keyboard which was not demanded by another responsibility or commitment. I kept phone calls brief and leisure reading became nonexistent. I spent less time exercising and cut my walking time by half. I also gave up solving my occasional Sudoku and crossword puzzles. Television also became a non-entity for me. When my husband and I tried to schedule a birthday overnight with our six-year-old granddaughter, I realized that giving up this large block of writing time bothered me. Now, spending time with any of my family, especially our granddaughters, has never ever bothered me. Family time is the greatest joy of my life. That I entertained the notion of being “bothered” over this upset me more than I can say.

After reflecting upon my terribly skewed priorities, I prayed aloud, “Dear God, what have I been thinking? In order to finish this book for Christmas, I won’t be able to do anything else.” My husband must have heard me mumbling from our study because he called up to me to ask, “Were you trying to finish your book by this Christmas?” When I answered in the affirmative, he added, “You enjoy writing, but you don’t seem to be having much fun now. Why don’t you take your time and make writing fun again? I don’t want to tell you what to do, but…” I didn’t let the poor man finish because I knew he was absolutely right.

I’m happy to share that I’ve adjusted my writing schedule to allow plenty of time for the other priorities in my life, especially the people I love.

Loving God, thank you for hearing the desperation in my voice and for sending such a speedy response through my husband.

©2014 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

It’s All About Love

This year, my husband and I are celebrating our granddaughters’ birthdays with a sleepover and a special outing. In July, our eldest granddaughter traveled to Chicago with us for a performance of Charlotte’s Web as part of her overnight stay. A few week’s ago, it was our middle granddaughter’s turn to celebrate with us. When we asked Lauren what she would like to do for her birthday, she asked if we could visit a dinosaur museum. Grandpa Mike investigated online and found a child-friendly venue. We planned to top off our time together with a special dinner and a bit of shopping.

When Grandpa arrived to pick up Lauren for her birthday adventure, she was standing at the door with her suitcase. Lauren could hardly wait to begin this special time away from her younger and older sisters. Grandpa offered to carry her bag to the car, but Lauren insisted upon pulling it along herself. During the drive, Lauren confirmed our plans with great anticipation. When she arrived here, Lauren carried her little suitcase up to her dad’s old room. “I’m going to sleep in Daddy’s bed, right Grandma?” When bedtime arrived, Lauren announced, “It’s strange to be here without Ellie and Claire.” We immediately picked up the phone so Lauren could wish a good night to her parents and sisters. With that, she slept soundly. The next day, after breakfast, church and an early lunch, we drove to the dinosaur museum. Though it was much smaller and less adventurous than we had hoped, Lauren reassured Grandpa and me. “It wasn’t what I expected,” she told us, “but it was still fun.” We filled the rest of the afternoon with a stroll by Lake Michigan and a visit to the pumpkin patch which we’d frequented decades earlier with our sons. These unexpected detours delighted Lauren beyond words.

That evening, when Lauren climbed into bed, she said her nighttime prayers. Afterward, she shared what she thought of this weekend together. “Grandma, I love being here with you and Grandpa. It’s fun to have you all to myself, but do you know what would be even better?” Before I could reply, Lauren went on. “It would be the most fun of all if Ellie and Claire and Mommy and Daddy could be here, and Uncle Tim and Aunt Kim, too. Then, we could all have fun together. Wouldn’t that be great?” I had no choice but to agree with this wise little child who had learned and shared an extremely important lesson regarding love. I couldn’t help considering Lauren’s observation when I turned to Matthew’s gospel.

Matthew (22:34-40) tells us that the Pharisees tested Jesus once again when they asked, “Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest?” Without hesitation, Jesus responded, “You shall love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the greatest and the first commandment. The second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself…” Lauren demonstrated her understanding of both commandments throughout her stay. During rare moments of quiet, Lauren sang. She sang songs from vacation bible school and a hymn she recognized while at Mass here at St. Paul’s. She enjoyed walking around the church with Grandpa and she offered her prayers without prompting. God definitely has a place in her life. What surprised me more was Lauren’s understanding of that second commandment. Lauren could hardly wait to have her own special time with Grandpa and me. In addition to our outings, we played together, read together and watched a favorite movie together. Lauren had all of the attention she could ever hope for. Still, when all was said and done, she realized that this special time would have been even more wonderful if she could have shared it with those God has given her to love. Lauren discovered what Jesus hoped to teach the Pharisees and all who would listen so long ago: Being loved blossoms into absolute joy when we share that love with others.

You know, God doesn’t ask for our love to burden us with guilt or unreasonable demands. It does our hearts good to express gratitude to the One who loves us unconditionally and who responds to all of our needs. God doesn’t ask us to love one another to complicate our lives. God knows firsthand the joy that comes when we share our lives with one another. Jesus designated the Two Greatest Commandments for good reason. These two simple requests are the means to our happiness today and forever. Just ask Lauren.

©2014 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved