Travel Light, But Travel!

He instructed them to
take nothing on the journey
but a walking stick…

Mark 6:8

Yesterday, when I gathered up the newspaper to recycle, I found the travel sections from three old papers in the pile. Since life with our new grandson has settled into a bit of a routine, this should not surprise me. We postponed a trip when we discovered it coincided with Daniel’s alleged due date. So it is that my husband is searching for an interim adventure.

The truth is that during the planning stage of any of travel, I simply bite the bullet and allow myself to be dragged along. The further truth is that my husband’s wanderlust guides his planning with such precision that the results never disappoint. We both enjoy a wonderful time once we reach our destination regardless of where it is. The planning, packing and other preparations are what drive me crazy. Perhaps this is what Jesus was getting at when he sent out his disciples with no luggage. Perhaps he didn’t want anything to keep them from making the most of their travels among us.

Dear God, thank you for my persistent husband who continues to plan much-needed times away for us. Bless him with many more wonderful trips and bless me with the courage to embrace his plans and to enjoy this beautiful world and its wonderful people.

©2015 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

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Rules That Matter

The early arrival of our new grandson turned the lives of all concerned upside down. Fortunately, Daniel continues to thrive in his parents’ care. As I offer a prayer of thanksgiving, I acknowledge that life’s surprises should be nothing new to any of us. Every day, rules are made for good reason and rules are broken for good reason. In Daniel’s case, he arrived at God’s appointed time with no regard for the expectations of the rest of us. With that realization in mind, I look around at our untidy house, piles of laundry and the once-blank page which I am currently filling. I temporarily set these things aside because visiting Daniel and his parents at the hospital is a priority these days.

I admit that I felt smugly vindicated when I read the scriptures today. Mark’s gospel offers a favorite vignette of Jesus-the-Rule-Breaker. Jesus did not disregard The Law. His parents raised him to be a devout member of the temple who took God’s wishes to heart. Equally importantly, however, Jesus took God’s love to heart. It was this choice to care for God’s children above all else which caused Jesus to fall into the poor graces of the rule-makers of his day. All of this brings to mind a fictional portrayal of Jesus-the-Rebel whom I encountered years ago in The Joshua Books (which are a very good read!). These narratives chronicle the adventures of the contemporary Jesus of Nazareth who revisits our modern world. Father Joseph Girzone’s rendering of Joshua is very much in keeping with Jesus’ experience in Mark’s gospel (Mark 7:1-8; 14-15; 21-23). In JOSHUA IN THE HOLY LAND (Girzone, Joseph F., Macmillan Publishing, New York, 1992), Joshua finds himself in the midst of just such an encounter.

As Father Girzone tells it, it was early Saturday when Joshua walked through an Orthodox settlement. Joshua offended onlookers because he carried a backpack. This was considered “work” which was disallowed on the Sabbath. When Joshua hurried along, seemingly to attend to important business, his quick pace violated the Sabbath once again. Those whom Joshua passed expressed disdain over these violations. It mattered little to them that Joshua was on his way to assist someone who desperately needed him. Joshua pointed out that it was rigidity such as this which prevented his adversaries’ ancient counterparts from recognizing him. The men responded by attempting to do Joshua violence. Apparently, those men determined that violence was allowable on the Sabbath! It was only the unexpected intervention of a friend that saved Joshua from being beaten.

Passages from Deuteronomy and James join Father Girzone and Mark’s gospel in illustrating the intent and the spirit of the law handed down to us through the scriptures and tradition. In Deuteronomy 4:1-2, 6-8, Moses presents the Ten Commandments to the people who had exhibited their hard-heartedness repeatedly. They desperately needed guidance regarding the value of their humanity and their relationships with God. In response, God inspired Moses to present the people with these precepts which would guide them in loving and relying upon God and in loving and cherishing one another. James 1:17-18, 21-22, 27 celebrates the grace that comes in everything God offers from above, especially in the ten simple rules which draw the best of our humanity from within us.

Father Girzone’s Joshua reintroduced the same simple rules to the modern world. Joshua urged the people to consider their use of The Law and their willingness to put love above all else. This Joshua echoes Jesus’ challenge. When the unexpected disrupts our plans and turns our world topsy-turvy, we must adjust the demands we place upon others and ourselves. God asks only that we do our best in the moment at hand. If this requires setting aside a rule or two, so be it. The only thing we are asked not to set aside is our love for one another.

When our little grandson made his way into this world a bit early, his parents, doctors, nurses and the rest of us adjusted as needed to respond. When he arrived in need of a few extra weeks in the hospital, all else gave way to accommodate Daniel’s care. I admit that it is easy to set aside my own agenda for this lovable little child. Today, God asks each of us to do the same for all of God’s children –lovable and otherwise– when they need us most.

©2015 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Always Teaching

“Teach them to carry out everything I have told you.”
Matthew 28:20

While walking the mall the other day, I paused as a familiar woman approached. I thought she was Kathleen, an amazing professor whom I haven’t seen for fifteen years. When I realized I was mistaken, I walked on. As I continued, I smiled over my favorite “Kathleen Memory.”

It was the last day of the first semester of an extremely demanding post-graduate program. After collecting our final assignments, Kathleen assigned a textbook to be read over winter break. I didn’t hide my anger well as I spoke: “I’ve survived this semester only because I’ve focused on celebrating Christmas with my family. Your intrusion upon this very necessary time together is unacceptable.” Dedicated teacher that she was, Kathleen pointed out that I was no longer in high school and that the assignment stood.

As we left, my classmates applauded my courage and laughed at my stupidity in speaking up. “Mary, just don’t read it. We’re not. The day before class, scan the chapter titles. You’ll know enough to muddle through.” I went home brooding and unsure of what I would do.

My family and I enjoyed a wonderful Christmas. While the kids played with their new toys and my husband tended to other things, I read the book. The truth is that it proved to be very helpful in my subsequent work with children and their teachers. When I returned to class, I apologized to Kathleen for my ungracious attitude. Kathleen smiled in response. “I admire your passion, Mary. I also admire your commitment. I knew you’d read the book.”

Patient God, when I balk at the things you ask of me, open my mind to your wisdom and my heart to your love. Use the good teacher in me to spread your love. Also, please bless Kathleen today and always. She inspired some of my best work.

©2015 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

If Necessary, Walk Away

“Whatever place does not welcome you or listen to you,
leave there and shake the dust off your feet…”

Mark 6:11

It isn’t easy for me to walk away. This propensity to stay connected is partially genetic and partially learned. My parents opened their door to everyone. I recall my mom saying, “I leave the door open. If people choose not to come in, it’s their loss.” Jesus also welcomed everyone who crossed his path. Since I subscribe to Jesus’ way of life, I try to welcome people the way Jesus did.

Still, there are people who really are not good for us. They may not cause physical harm, but they may take a psychological or spiritual or emotional toll on us. I find that if my gut is having a strong reaction to someone, I need to listen. This does not necessarily mean that I need never to speak to this person again. However, it may mean that I should limit our contact as best I can.

This may seem like an odd topic for a daily reflection, especially during such a happy time in my own life. I have included it because sometimes good people think that part of “being good” is allowing ourselves to be hurt unnecessarily. Our loving God could not disagree more.

Dear God, as you walk with me, keep me safe and wise. Help me to recognize potential harm and guide me away from its source.

©2015 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Tears of Love

Those who sow with tears will reap with songs of joy.
Psalm 126:5

I admit that I have shed many tears as of late. I wept over the impending birth of our little grandson who seemed intent upon arriving a bit too early. God graciously endured my mournful onslaught and then responded with great love. I wept when Little Daniel arrived. He weighed an amazing 4 pounds 5 ounces and he scored like a mini full-term newborn on an at-birth assessment. Though I maintained my composure when I first saw him, I shed tears of joy on the way home. Though I smiled broadly when I first held him, I cried later in the day when I was alone with God. I could not contain my joy.

With each passing day, I worry and I rejoice over Daniel’s progress. Both elicit my tears. As I consider the trials and triumphs of loving my own little family, I wonder. Finally, I ask The Almighty how it is possible to watch over and attend to all of us twenty-four/seven for eternity. I imagine God smiling in response. “It’s love, Mary. It’s all about love,” God tells me.

Loving God, of all of your gifts, our capacity to love is the greatest. Painful as love sometimes is, I thank for this heartfelt miracle.

©2015 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Dear Child

“…to Timothy, my dear child:
grace, mercy, and peace from God…”

2 Timothy 1:2

When our son announced, “He’s here. Daniel is here!” I was thrilled and worried. When I learned that all was well with our new grandson, I considered his name. I like “Daniel” and I made a mental note to ask his parents how they arrived at this selection. As I wondered, I recalled an episode with Daniel’s dad when he was a child. At the time, my son expressed complete dissatisfaction with the name my husband and I had chosen for him…

It was dinnertime and my husband, our son Mike and I talked as usual about the events of the day. Tim was uncharacteristically quiet. Suddenly, in the midst of the conversation, our red-faced seven-year-old son howled, “Why am I the only one in this family whose name doesn’t start with M?” My husband and I were taken aback. We had no idea that this bothered our younger son. Before we could respond, Tim tearfully added, “Mike, Mary and Michael. Why is my name Timothy?” I hoped my explanation would sooth Tim’s wounded spirit.

“Tim, Dad’s name was Mike and my name was Mary when we met. We didn’t have a choice about that. When we had our first baby and he was a boy, Dad wanted to name him after himself and Grandpa. So his name is Mike, too. When you were on the way, I just knew you were going to be a boy. Dad and I talked a lot about your name. I didn’t like any of the M names. Why pick a name just because of the M? I loved Timothy and that’s why you have that name. Yours is the only name that this family really thought about.” With that, my comforted son Timothy finished his dinner with a smile.

If Daniel ever inquires about the source of his name, he will discover as well that his name is the product of his parents’ love.

Dear God, please bless all of your children with peace, especially those who question their place in your world.

©2015 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved