Always Loved

When he was still a long way off, his father caught sight of him,
and was filled with compassion. He ran to his son, embraced him and kissed him.

Luke 15:20-21

We cherish our best friends. They know what is on our minds before we do. They can finish our sentences. They help us through the most difficult times of our lives, and they share our greatest joys. The impact that a best friend has upon any of us is beyond words. That being said, I am going to share one of the greatest things a Dear Friend has done for me.

I have often told those who are close to me that I truly appreciate the way Jesus of Nazareth asked us to live. I like Jesus’ acceptance of each of us for who we are and I agree with his insistence that we love one another. Jesus valued humility and service, and so do I. Most of all, I appreciate knowing that there is nothing I can do that is unforgivable in God’s eyes. When he offered The Parable of the Prodigal Son, Jesus offered me one of the greatest gifts I have ever received. This promise that God’s love is unconditional removes any doubt that I am a valued member of our human family -God’s family. Though I or any one of us can spend an entire lifetime rejecting God’s love, God’s embrace awaits us just the same.

Loving God, the most wonderful aspect of these powerful words is your assurance that they are true. Help me to convince others of your love and forgiveness in all that I say and do.

©2015 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Take Notice and Take Care

If they will not listen to Moses and the prophets,
neither will they be persuaded if someone should rise from the dead.

Luke 16:31

The most frustrating times of my teaching career, and throughout my life for that matter, occur when stubborn or mean-spirited adults refuse to do the right thing. At school it was a teacher who refused to admit an error, a principal who refused to back a teacher whom she didn’t much care for, a lunch monitor who exhibited an attitude toward “those” kids or a custodian who took his time when certain teachers called for help. This list, which goes on and on, exists in just about every human institution, including our circles of friends and our families. Our school secretary often observed, “Jesus himself could show them different and they’d still act that way!”

Luke’s gospel tells us that a hungry homeless man died on a rich man’s doorstep simply because the man didn’t notice him. When I consider my own annoyance with those who refused to do the right thing at work, I wonder how many times I have been guilty of the same. How many times have I intentionally avoided or simply not noticed a situation in which I could have done some good? Would it have mattered if Jesus himself had tapped me on the shoulder to get me moving?

It’s time that I forget about the omissions of others. Rather, I need to tend to my own ability to take notice and to take care whenever the opportunity arises.

Patient God, help me to see those who need me with your eyes and to respond to them with your heart.

©2015 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

A Kindly Servant

Whoever wishes to be first among you shall be your slave.
Matthew 20:27

The memories which filled me up at the cemetery the other day remain with me. I consider this a sign that I must take to heart my loved ones’ lessons. Though I was not beneficiary of the good deeds involved, I must share one memory which gets to the heart of the matter…

My Aunt Lucille cared for “elderly” people throughout her own “declining” years. She had a way with her “ladies” as she would call them. One woman had been rather troublesome. Her memory no longer served her which exacerbated her already trying personality. She was unkind and demanding, at best. Because Aunt Lucille was always one to find the upside in every situation, she made a point of discovering this woman’s favorite things and her pet peeves. During the year Aunt Lucille cared for her, this woman became one of my aunt’s most tiring and most beloved clients. When this woman passed away, Aunt Lucille attended her funeral.

This woman’s family was quite renowned and many notable people attended her service. Aunt Lucille arrived early to insure herself a seat. She chose the last row to avoid imposing upon anyone. Just before the service began, the woman’s son noticed Aunt Lucille in the back of the church. He walked back to her and escorted her to the family’s pew. “My mother loved you, Lucille. You’ve been a blessing to her and to us. Your place is here!”

I always knew that there was something special about my Aunt Lucille.

Loving God, help me to put myself aside and to care for those I have been given to love with Aunt Lucille’s humility and compassion.

©2015 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Serve with Love

Whoever wishes to be great among you shall be your servant…
Matthew 20:27

Though I don’t often visit cemeteries, I recently did so to celebrate memories of my loved ones. I know I can do this anywhere. Still, I find tangible peace in these places where I expressed my grief through my tears and spoke my final farewells. Though the remains of all of the people whom I’ve lost weren’t buried in this particular place, each one came to mind as I gazed over rows of monuments which seemed to go on for infinity.

As I considered these losses which began when I was four years old, I realized the reason I so miss these loved ones. In one way or another, they all enriched my life. Even when some of them were not at their best, they touched me in extremely important ways. Perhaps the most powerful trait which these good people shared was their consistent willingness to put others before themselves. Even when circumstances forced them into acts of generosity and selflessness, they rose to these occasions with grace and kindness.

As I stood there, a plethora of memories recounted their good deeds. Though I cried the first time I stood at their gravesides, I couldn’t help smiling on this particular day. I looked up as if to find my loved ones in their afterlife abodes and whispered, “How can I thank you for doing all that you did for me?” Though I “heard” nothing in response, I had the distinct feeling that doing the same for those I have been given to love would be quite enough.

Generous God, thank you for the amazing people who have enriched my life. Help me to do the same for those I meet along the way.

©2015 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Seek Joy

Sing joyfully to the Lord, all you lands;
break into song; sing praise.

Psalm 98:4

A few days ago, my husband and I drove up north to our favorite getaway, a little log cabin in the woods. Though we left plenty of work behind at home, we gave in to this much-needed opportunity to relax. This was the first time we headed north since his foot surgery. He was thrilled to be at the wheel after having been chauffeured for weeks. Though I always volunteer to share the driving, I was grateful that my husband did not take me up on my offer. I happily lay back and enjoyed the view beyond my window. Nature did not disappoint as summer’s splendor revealed itself throughout the drive. We made excellent time and were surprisingly refreshed when we arrived.

Though we intended to relax, as soon as we settled in, we each tackled a project which we had let go during prior visits. A few hours and lots of progress later, we realized that dinner time had come and we had made no plans. We opted for the twenty-minute drive to our favorite Mexican restaurant. As we settled in to scan the familiar menu, we laughed at how little we had relaxed that day. Still, we felt much better than we had a few days earlier when we decided we needed this get-away. My husband observed, “Maybe we didn’t mind all of the work at the cabin because we didn’t have to do it. We did it because we wanted to.” How right he was…

Gracious God, thank you for sharing your joyful Spirit with us. Give us the wisdom to revive our spirits often.

©2015 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Letting Go…

My husband recently spoke with a former hospice co-worker. Nancylou receives these daily reflections and noted that I recently referenced Mike’s foot surgery. She called to inquire about his recovery. After assuring his friend that he is fine, the two went on to reminisce about the work they shared. In the process, numerous beloved patients came to mind. Though I wasn’t privy to his patients’ names, Mike often shared touching stories about them. I remember one such tale regarding a young woman who had been stricken with cancer. She opened every visit with the assurance that she was doing “as well as I can.” A few minutes later, she habitually shared a new bit of wisdom which she’d acquired as a result of her illness. One day, she observed, “You know, when you’re sick, people encourage you and urge you on to get well. They know just what to say. When you’re in hospice, it’s different. Everyone knows that you’re not going to get better. It’s hard for them to know what to say. It’s hard for the person in hospice, too…” Mike was amazed at this woman’s generosity in revealing this very personal perspective regarding her journey. So was I…

As I read John’s gospel (6:1-15), I couldn’t help considering this woman’s observation. John tells us that Jesus crossed the Sea of Galilee to seek much-needed rest for his disciples and himself. The crowd followed because they had been deeply touched by Jesus ability to heal and to work other wonders. The people couldn’t get enough of the hope Jesus offered. When Jesus saw the fatigued and famished multitude, he was moved with pity and love for them. Jesus asked the disciples where they might find enough food for these people. Stunned by Jesus’ incredulous request, poor Philip responded that two hundred days’ wages could not purchase food for that crowd. Out of desperation, Andrew pointed out a boy among them who had five barley loaves and two fish. Somehow, Jesus acquired that boy’s basket of food and transformed it into a meal for thousands.

As I consider Jesus’ miracle, it occurs to me that I have never given much thought to the boy with the bread and fish. This poor kid found himself in the midst of a hungry horde who had no prospects for their next meal. This boy probably ached with hunger himself after the long trek to the mountainside. Did any of the adults or older children try to cajole the boy into sharing his meager provisions? How did it happen that the boy parted with what might have been his last meal for quite some time? Perhaps the boy had been impressed by Jesus to some degree. Why else would he have been amidst the crowd that day? Though the boy might have been dragged into the melee by his parents, somehow he managed to get close enough to Jesus for his basket of food to be noticed. With hundreds of hungry people in need of the boy’s food, how was it that Jesus came into possession of it? Did Andrew urge the boy to give it up? Did the boy’s family insist that he part with his food? Or, did Jesus himself approach the boy with an offer he couldn’t refuse: “If you will let go of these few fish and loaves, I’ll replace them with something that you will have forever. Will you let go of this small meal so I can fill you up with all that you will ever need?”

In the end, I simply don’t know why that boy relinquished his food to Jesus. As my thoughts return to that young hospice patient, I wonder as well. How was it that she found the courage to let go of everyone and everything that sustained her through this life? How was it that she loosened her grasp on the things of this world to reach toward the next? It seems to me that the boy in John’s gospel parted with his bread and fish because he couldn’t resist Jesus. It seems to me this young woman followed the boy’s lead because she, too, couldn’t resist all that awaited her in Jesus’ company.

Though I always felt that the multiplication of that bread and fish contained the main message of this miracle, I cannot ignore the boy’s willingness to let go of his food. Just as Jesus coaxed that basket from the boy’s hand, Jesus coaxed that young woman to let go of this life. Jesus does the same with you and me. It is through this miracle that Jesus urges us all to loosen our grips on the things of this world. The boy and young woman found their reward in Jesus’ promises, and so will you and I.

©2015 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved